Life lessons at 100 mph

Perusing the daily newspapers a couple of weeks back, my eyes could not avoid the pictures of the aftermath of a fatal car crash Saturday night, Sept. 30, in South Seattle. Four young men, driving at speeds approaching 100 miles an hour, died when their car flipped and skidded more than a block.

My mind was dragged (unwillingly) back to my sophomore year in high school, when our entire class was bused to an auto wrecking yard in central Cincinnati to view the wreckage of a classmate's car.

He, too, had been driving at high speed, lost control of the car and was fatally injured.

The priests, good old-fashioned hell-and-brimstone Franciscans, were practical religious folk. Instead of a long lecture-which they (rightly, I believe) thought would be ignored-they offered us a view of our possible future if we drove recklessly and too fast.

I would like to say that their grisly show-and-tell worked. Nevertheless, three more of my classmates died the same way before we graduated, and one, a pretty good friend, died alone in his car late one night the summer after we young, working-class tyros almost unanimously entered the working world.

I was just lucky, I guess. I didn't drive very fast, a combination of fear and an old beater car that wouldn't travel comfortably above 75. But I rode with friends who buried the needle at 120 more than once.

Cars, we forget as we age, were once for more than show. The car meant freedom, and driving at high speed was somehow connected to our burgeoning, if pathetic, young manhood.

Fast forward 20 years. My two lovely daughters are leaving our Queen Anne apartment on dates with young boys with cars. To say I didn't wait nervously on more than one night for them to return, still prettily intact, would be a lie.

If anything, I was more fearful for them than for myself.

My grandsons are both turning 10 this week, 10 days apart, and so far neither has asked for anything faster than a skateboard.

But the fear, I'm sure, is there, waiting to reemerge and tighten my stomach with dire anticipation.

Sometimes, nowadays, reading the newspaper, I truly see why some old folks are convinced life is a circle, deadly for some, sweetly alive for others. If you have teenagers right now revving up a car outside your window, you have my sympathetic understanding.

ANOTHER THING THAT SEEMS TO ENDLESSLY REPEAT ITSELF is the fall from grace of allegedly conservative legislators and generals who preach morality with one hand and perform what some folks would call obscenities with the other.

I'm speaking, of course, of Rep. Mark Foley, the Florida Republican who was allowed to remain in charge of a Congressional committee formed to protect abused and exploited children, after his bosses learned that he allegedly had been cybernetically abusing a gaggle of underage Congressional pages for years.

It's almost as if Foley's alleged congressional party leaders were mocking the plight of abused youth they swore to protect. If they were worried about losing Foley's vote, why didn't they transfer him to a committee investigating farm abuses or something?

To leave him in a position of legal and moral authority over the very segment of the population he wanted to abuse in his private life is worse than sick. It is perverted. The so-called good people of the far-right-dominated Republican Party need to fire House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who has admitted he knew of Foley's "difficulties."

Somehow it never changes. Just like the speeding teens who keep killing themselves in cars and trucks.

From General Walker-the right-wing hawk during the Vietnam war whose career ended after he allegedly approached a male undercover officer at a public restroom at the Lincoln Memorial-right on down to the benighted Foley-who is now claiming he, too, was abused as a child, as if that makes his offenses somewhat more palatable-I have learned it is wise to distrust those who preach a loud and restrictive morality.

I am against teen exploitation. But if Foley had been a quietly mediocre Congressman instead of a stridently "moral" one, I wouldn't write about him.

If I had a pulpit for teenagers, I would say three things for sure: Don't drive 40 miles per hour over the speed limit, don't drink and drive and never trust a tight-faced man who is sure he knows what is right sexually for you and every other young male on the planet.

Perversion may be a sin, but false moralistic piety and its abuses cause far more harm.

Dennis Wilken is a freelance writer living in Queen Anne. He can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]