Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Road Side Memorials


I used to do a lot of driving on the East Coast and I have to say that I never saw road-side memorials there like I see here in Oregon.

I recently drove down to Myrtle Point to give a lecture and it seemed that not ten miles would pass without seeing a white cross beside the road, decorated with a wreath, or flowers, or stuffed animals, or photographs marking the spot where someone’s loved one lost their life on the road. There are several in Clatsop County as well on Hwy 30, 101, 105 and 26. There are even some back on country roads.

It’s alarming that I know more people who have died in automobile crashes than from any other cause. The next would be suicide. I lost my eldest brother in a car crash. He was driving down a road when someone who was leaving a convenience store pulled out in front of him. Though his death would have been totally prevented had he been wearing a seat belt.

I once pulled out in front of a car like that when I was 17. Fortunately, I and the driver who struck my car were wearing seat belts. I couldn’t live with myself that the driver died in the crash.

I when I was in my 20s, my divorce attorney ran into the back of a semi and was beheaded. Many childhood friends died in wrecks as well.

I recall the first roadside fatality I saw as a kid. It was a drunk driver who hit a utility pole near my house. The car was nearly sliced in half. I recall seeing the driver by the reflection of the police car lights. He was slumped over the wheel, dead. There were beer cans on his dash board. I didn’t know him, but I’m sure that forty years later someone still thinks of him and remembers the last time they saw him alive. I didn’t even know him and I remember seeing him dead.

I used to think that these white cross road side memorials were gaudy, but now I see them and I reflect on the lives that were lost and how fragile we really are even with seat belts and air bags. When I drive by them I try to imagine what when wrong and I slow down, making sure I don’t succumb to the same fate.

18 Comments:

Blogger Auntie said...

Yikes, no seatbelt *gulp*.

5:43 AM  
Blogger Hahn at Home said...

well, Mr. Downer Dude.

We are indeed fragile. I still remember the little boy who was hit in a crosswalk (6) when I was 8. David Goodyear. I remember the name, didn't know him, and can't tell you 20 people's names I graduated with.

Grandparents were hit in their Fiat Spider by a drunk driver - car landed 30 ft up in a tree, dropping them out like fruit falling out of the tree - they lived but have never been the same. Driver got a 30-day suspended sentence.

Fragile indeed.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Uncle Walt said...

Is it also against the law back East to have such memorials? I know it used to be against the law in WA, but don't know if the law was repealed or if the police just ignore it.

The first roadside memorials I saw were in the midwest, when I was in elementary school travelling with my parents. Miles of straight road across the plains, and then you'd see these memorials. At first, I thought they were some sort of historical marker because they looked so similiar to the markers on old battlefields.

I have an uncle who has what I guess you'd call an obsession about such markers. If the marker is for someone who died while driving drunk or recklessly (IE; racing teens), he tears it down. He says they don't deserve a roadside memorial and if the family/friends wants to remember them, they can do so at the cemetery.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Syd said...

I can't stand them. But, I will admit to putting on my seatbelt after passing a "memorial".

8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In early January, seven members of the local high school basketball team along with the coach's wife were killed in a head on collision (icy roads) with a transport truck 500 meters from the exit which would have put them safely at home. It was not long before basketball hoops were put up as a memorial at the site. Sad.

Moose

8:46 AM  
Blogger Chantel said...

I know a lot of people who have died in car accidents as well. Unfortunately most of them when I was in high school. I lived a rural area and there are roadside memorials all over. Its always seemed normal to me.

However, I do like to hang out in cemeteries; so who's judging normal.

9:12 AM  
Blogger weese said...

I don't like them either. If I die by the roadside I certainly do not want such a memorial.
Tho they do make me think. Sometimes I think solemn thoughts - but honestly sometimes I don't understand how the accident could have happened in the first place.

9:35 AM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Auntie, You need an automatic seat-belt detector where you can't even start the engine until you are clicked.

Lori, yet it's also amazing how some people refuse to die no matter what happens to them.

Walt, I wouldn't do that because the love of the survivors sees it as a tragedy on all levels. It is more of a memorial for the survivors.

Syd, you belt, but do you slow down to a reasonable speed?

Moosehead, That really hurts a small community. So sad.

Chantel, I'm really digging your reverence for cemeteries. Have you visited the one in Rosylyn, Wa. Very cool! I also dig that you actually use semi colons properly.

Weese, That's why they are called accidents, as opposed to on-purposes.

10:02 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

You and I (and many others) reflect on the meaning of those memorials but I often wonder if the meaning registers with those who speed and/or drive while impaired.
I hope so.
A sad but thoughtful post.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Crowbar said...

I'd like to see the highway department, or whatever agency is responsible for maintenance, place an official marker at the location of all fatal motor vehicle accidents. Who knows, such reminders might do more to reduce accidents than the cautionary signs that tell us to slow down for the curve ahead.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Mike S said...

We get those here too, but thankfully our vehicle death rate is fairly low compared to many places. As with most places, drunks take the biggest toll. The accidents are few, but they're often deadly here.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous F. Lee said...

As far as my memory goes, these roadside memorials are fairly recent in Oregon-didnt seem them prior to the past two decades here....my first exposure to them was in Mexico in the early '70s-also observed that standing around in the road was sort of a national pastime for the Mexican people, which, undoubtedly, contributed to number of pedestrian fatalities..Then noticed them on trips to California after that..slowly the practice creeped north with the people...

I suppose like any pop culture practice, it will fade away in time...wonder if anyone is documenting the phenom photographically. Ya know, eventually there will be a coffee table book of "Roadside Memorials Of Oregon" or something like that...

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

f. lle, I dare say there are already a number of books documenting roadside memorials, though maybe not one Oregon specific.

This memorial was in Montana:
A Beautiful Place to Die

Damn, when did signing in become a pain in the ass? What's with the Google/Blogger requirement. Rat bastards. I'm going anonymous.

6:43 PM  
Blogger RevMedic said...

Most public safety agencies are now calling these 'collisions' or 'crashes', not accidents. Accidents are not preventable, but most of these are completely preventable.
I drive an ambulance as my profession, and I am constantly amazed at the amount of people out there not using their seatbelts. People see the ambulance and only then, when they are already out there driving around, buckle up. Such a simple thing to do...

8:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like roadside memorials- they're like little re-gifting shops on the side of the road!

Seriously, if you set one up, get help. Nothing says "someone that knows an ill-coping dipshit died here" quite like a pile of trash and busted up Jesus hanger.

Oh, and they're "traffic collisions" or "TC's" in larger departments.

9:10 PM  
Blogger Mom of Three said...

Did anyone see the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" where Larry David kept stealing flowers from roadside memorials to re-gift?

11:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to say that Police chief Scott Whitehouse of North Plains oregon is one of the most un-compassionate men on the face of this earth.

As Police Chief he claims Roadside Memorials in his district, regardless of whom may have died or how is merely a distraction.

Shame on such a public authority to take a stance like this. Hopefully one day this cowardly disgrace of a human being wont find himself burying one of his own children at a roadside in his own district.

3:26 PM  
Blogger The Guy Who Writes This said...

Anon, have you ever met someone named Scott that wasn't a douche bag?

6:16 AM  

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