Traveling Wheel(chair)burys

If you are new to this blog of the upcoming book Viking Funeral, celebrating the life of Dave Linane with booze, words, and fire, welcome.  The timeline above shows you where we are in the book. While each chapter can stand on its own if you wish to read from the beginning, click here.  More info is available, About Dave or the FAQ section explains the arc of the storyline. If you found me through a grief group, this page of my perspective of why we are all here in this place right now may be helpful. XO M

Dave’s ever-adventurous spirit was always pushing the envelope of navigating the cabin of this life as freely as possible in a wheelchair.  The limits of a wheelchair are many, but with the right attitude, they can also be as infinite as the universe.

In my interview a while back with Bruce, he described the many crazy adventures I have written about already of him and their friends driving Dave around town in Dave’s old yellow Chevy Mystery Van, getting him in and out of it, our house, and many other places. Several (usually at least four) guys would muscle him in or out of wherever.

He was very proud to add, “And as much as we partied back then (as 19-20-21-year-olds), I can’t believe we NEVER dropped him!” He paused a moment as he remembered a time when they did, in fact, drop him. “Well, except that one time, we dropped him, it was more like… he slid down the front steps at, I think, Steve’s house. He somehow got away from us and went right down the steps. But his wheelchair bag, remember that bag he always had on the back of his wheelchair?” I nodded, holding my breath in retroactive but funny-horror. Of course, I remembered the bag; it was ALWAYS on the back of his wheelchair, and I lived with the guy. I saw his wheelchair on days Dave wasn’t even in it because it was stored in our dining room-basically the entryway of our home.

He went on, “Well, that bag flipped up behind his head like a pillow and protected him as he went down the stairs, so he wasn’t hurt!” He paused as he probably realized it might have sounded pretty bad from my perspective. “So, just that one time, he slid down those steps, so that’s pretty good!” The entire time he spoke, he was animatedly moving his arms, directing the action as I laughed, because, “Just that one time.” It was so fun watching him look into his memories and envision this story.

He went on to clarify how careful they always were with him because no one wanted to cause him further injury beyond the one injury he already endured, the one that left him paralyzed. Bruce nor none of their friends ever wanted to have to face our parents, who were everyone’s parents, with bad news.

He continued to describe the occasion of attending Steve and Peg’s wedding. This was a different Steve, the Steve, who rode with Dave to the hospital in the ambulance the day Dave broke his neck not the Steve with the steps they dropped him down. They were the first of any one of their twenty-something-year-old friends to get married. You may remember Steve and Peg and their backyard wedding from an earlier chapter.

He went on, “So other than that one time we dropped him a little and at Steve and Peg’s wedding,” I interrupted, “Wait, you dropped him at Steve and Peg’s wedding too?” “No, we didn’t drop him. We…lost him.” Long pause as he figured out how to tactfully present how he lost my brother.  “He was only temporarily lost.” Another pause. “Just those two times, but that’s it.” I was confused, “So you lost him twice too?” “No, I’m not sayin’ it right, we dropped him just once and only lost him once.” I covered my eyes and laughed at him.

He set the scene of reminding me that Peg’s family home was located at the end of a steep private drive at the top of several steep, narrow, windy, one-way, overgrown roads on what is called Little Mountain in San Bernardino. I had never been to Peg’s parents’ house specifically. But I knew the general area. I knew the home was located above Edgehill Road, which is descriptive enough to let you know the neighborhood’s terrain.

Bruce described their group of friends had arrived for the wedding, and they all helped get Dave down into the backyard by way of an arduously long set of steps. It required several, probably four strong guys to get him down the tough trek to Peg’s back lawn. If you remember from that earlier chapter, the wedding went off with just the one hitch of a fistfight before the ceremony between two young men, completely unrelated to the bride or wedding party. The skirmish was quickly squashed.

The wedding began. I do declarations of consent were traded, the seal of a thousand kisses was sealed, the pronouncement was made. They were man and wife! Then the party part of the event commenced, and everyone had a great time eating, drinking, dancing, celebrating their darling friends’ marriage!

The natural end of the evening was upon them. Guests had faded off into the long ago set sun. It was decidedly time for them to go too. Every available guy was always willing to help, and they collectively moved Dave back up the many steps out of the yard to the street. You can imagine moving Dave up a long flight of stairs was much harder than descending them, plus they had been drinking, and the general fatigue of the end of a late evening of celebration was upon them. This was no easy task. OY!

Bruce was relieved to reach the garden’s top step and return Dave to the pavement under his own control. Bruce turned away from Dave to say goodbye to someone or the group, the who is not the important aspect of the story advancement, but he turned, “for just a MINUTE…” When he returned his attention back to Dave, to the presumed next task of loading him in the van, Dave was nowhere in sight.

Bruce was stunned; he questioned those present, “Where’d he go?” Everyone shrugged, conveying in an unworried and tipsy manner they didn’t know. Bruce, still incredulous all these years later, reiterated to me, “I only turned around for a MINUTE.” Back then, Bruce felt a flash of panic and raised his voice to the group, “You guys!! No one was watching HIM??” He mimed The group collectively, sloppily shrugged again. “No one saw where he WENT!!!?” He repeated the description with, “Again, the group had nothing.”

The collective they or Dave or all of them may have admittedly consumed a bit too much alcohol as 20-something-year-olds are want to do. I did not witness this occasion personally, so I have to rely on this second-hand account and the lore that grew of the events that then played out. Let us all go ahead and assume, for the record, too much alcohol was involved.

Bruce’s thoughts filled with dread; He just knew Dave would roll out of control down that steep hill in his janky first-generation electric wheelchair to a premature demise. Bruce is not one to panic in general, but let me describe where they were. Imagine if you will a steep neighborhood of blind curves with overgrown landscaping, one-way roads so narrow that no street parking is possible on either side, just wide enough for one car.

These lovely Spanish-style bungalows were built about the same time as those of the Hollywood Hills, the 1920s and 30s, and have a similarly precarious and tight, recklessly un-engineered feel. There were no street lights, no gutters, no curbs. Of course, the uphill side has the mountain, and the downhill side has an unprotected drop-off, no guardrail, just the edge of the world. If one were to drive off that edge, you would either land on someone’s roof about 20 feet below or in their pool. It goes without saying that crashing into a house would be disastrous from a fall of 20 feet, and we already know how Dave’s near-death swim therapy experience turned out.

Dave’s wheelchair didn’t have any lights or reflectors, and he was heading downhill on a vehicle with no breaks. Bruce could only hope that if Dave didn’t drive off the edge of the world, that he wasn’t hit by an oncoming car heading uphill on a collision course with him. Add the right combination of wrong turns, a hundred pound or more wheelchair, PLUS booze, and Bruce’s imagination had run wild, as did mine envisioning all the very real dangers as he recounted his thoughts of the worst possible outcomes to me.

He ran to the van, hopped in, and headed downhill, looking in the dark for signs of obvious disturbances, broken or bent over bushes indicative of Dave having flown off the side of the road along the way. He reached the stop sign at the bottom of the hill without a hint of Dave. There was water running through the gutter in front of him, and detective at large Bruce spied a set of distinct tire tracks from a wheelchair heading east from the intersection. He was relieved to have deduced that Dave had to have at least made it this far, which was great intel. He followed the tracks across Edgehill as it transitioned to 34th street, then to the stop at E street. At this point, Bruce assumed Dave would head south on E Street because that would be the most direct route the last mile home to 25th street, so he headed that way.

There was the most divey bar on E Street called The Knothole. It may have been more appropriate to have been called The Bunghole because a knothole and bunghole are almost the same things in my mind. But, bunghole obviously has a worse connotation, and it would have been a more fitting name for this absolute shithole. My entire life growing up, wait, before my life began, the three-foot-wide milky white oval glass sign perched on a tall pole advertising The Knothole consisted of two sides of glass with the same red The Knothole logo on each side, lighted from inside by two fluorescent tube lights. The font was exactly like the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, but of course way, way, way smaller and located above a dinky dive of a bar in a predominantly residential neighborhood in gritty San Bernardino, CA. The ironic aspect of this sign was the fact that someone had thrown a rock through both sides of the glass. That is how I know there were two fluorescent lights inside; you could see them without any effort. Who knows how long the holes had been in the sign which remained long after the divey bar itself died. The sign indignantly stood until the entire shabby building and surrounding structures burned to the ground leaving only the memory of that hole in both sides of The Knothole. I never set foot in that place or really many bars actually, my judgment was based on the dingy holey sign, the gross exterior, the fact that there were no windows, the gritty neighborhood, and as rumor had it, “it was a dive.” I trust the purveyor of those rumors, my data cohort of one being, Dave.

The tire tracks had faded not far from the divey Knothole entrance, so Bruce parked the van and went in to check it out. Inside he found Dave and their friend Steve (front porch steps Steve, not the groom), who was playing pool as Dave watched, with a pitcher of beer next to him. They were excited to see Bruce as if they hadn’t seen him in forever, and it was always the plan to meet up there. Bruce was worried like a responsible mom and yelled at them like a responsible mom for worrying him so before forgetting it all and joining them for that pitcher of beer again as if that had been the plan all along.

Steve laughed as he told of the harrowing adventure that transpired from his perspective while Bruce’s back was ever so briefly turned. Dave rarely offered stories of his adventures. He would answer if you asked him directly, but he usually let others enjoy telling the tales and laughed while they did. Steve explained how things went down; Dave wasn’t up for ending the night just yet and didn’t want to get in the van. He said he was going to head down the hill on his own. Steve thought that sounded like a terrible idea and decided to join him for Dave’s safety no doubt.

I am not sure I buy this part because besides the news to me dropping him down Steve’s front porch steps, this is the same Steve that Dave was with when he stepped in dog shit the night before he broke his neck when they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing. This Steve was also known to waterski behind a car when Sierra Avenue flooded every rain before it was properly engineered. He was a speed water skier. This is a woefully limited list that doesn’t properly illustrate Steve’s broad sense of adventure; read wild daredevil, but you get the idea. Without further discussion, he jumped on the back of Dave’s wheelchair, where there were two wheelie bars.

Not sure that wheelie bar is the official name for them, but that is what we called them. They were two metal tubes that extended out the backside of Dave’s wheelchair about a foot behind him, about eight inches above the ground. The end of each tube was bent downward with a very small wheel at the end that didn’t touch the ground. These wheels were meant to keep Dave from tipping over backward as if that were possible. The chair had a low center of gravity, was heavy as hell, and he would have to be four-wheeling up an incredibly steep hill, almost a wall to have possibly flipped over backward, but that was the purpose of their existence. They also made the perfect place to stand, and with the handles on the back of his wheelchair, you could hold on for a ride. Every child in Dave’s hemisphere, along with each of us siblings, our parents, and his friends rode on those wheelie bars at some point in time, but Steve may have officially been the first and definitely had the wildest ride.

Steve was a big guy like Dave. He described the two of them quickly gaining speed as they hauled-ass down the narrow, curvy, steep, unlit one-way roads. For reference, a bike in our neighborhood that has similarly steep hills can reach 35 miles an hour coasting.

Somewhere near the bottom of the hill, they started to lose control in or around the last curve, they left the road, ended up going through someone’s driveway, across their lawn, and off the curb on the other side of the yard into the street. Steve instinctively grabbed hold of Dave with a bear hug as the terrain grew rough across the grass, and they were briefly air-born. They landed hard. The two of them plus Dave’s chair must have weighed close to 500 pounds.

Surprisingly, Dave managed to correct their course without slowing down much. Again, I say this for dramatic effect, without brakes, they were traveling theoretically upwards of 35 mph with wobbly-ass front wheels in a wheelchair designed to go 6. They blew through the stop sign at the bottom of the hill through an intersection with no stop for opposing traffic at Edgehill and 34th street with no lights on his vehicle either. Their momentum luckily carried them to the nearest and only bar at that end of town about another block away, roughly a mile from the wedding to recover with a pitcher of beer!

One more component I haven’t mentioned is that wheelchair in 1974-5 cost more than 13k dollars. If he crashed it the first few months home, that too would have been a financial disaster of biblical proportions because even though it cost more than three brand new Honda Civics at the time, there is no such thing as wheelchair insurance. And how would he have explained a house running into him, or landing it in a pool or worse?

I remember overhearing this adventure the morning after it happened, not from Dave, but as my mom cackled about it over the phone with my aunt. The half of the conversation I heard from my mom ended with, “And they went DOWN the hill, to Edgehill to E Street. Dave almost crashed his chair, but Steve held on to him, so he didn’t fly out! AND they ended up at THE KNOTHOLE of all places!” I heard my aunt laughing through the phone. My mom repeated, “I KNOW!! THE KNOTHOLE!!!” I was 9 or 10 and had been looking at that hole in the filthy sign and its two fluorescent lights for at least six years because my mom drove me to my weekly piano lesson past that place. Dave had to be 21 to enter the bar. He hadn’t been home from the hospital that long and really hadn’t driven himself around town that much at that point, so it was all very shocking but hilarious and just the beginning of his wild adventures. It was a “true” story of lore. I was really happy when Bruce brought it up organically in our conversation because I never heard the other side of this story outside overhearing my mom on the phone… “I KNOW! THE KNOTHOLE!!”

I love how his friends quickly grew to understand the limits and possibilities of his wheelchair and always stepped up to either save the day or went along for the adventurous ride of a lifetime with Dave.

© Mardi Linane Copyright 2020

6 thoughts on “Traveling Wheel(chair)burys

  1. OMG! This is hilarious…they sure know how to have fun!!! I have to admit I held my breath u til I read that they were safe and sound at the dive bar!!

  2. My heart was pounding as I read this story! I shudder to think of so many “possibilities” that could have happened but didn’t.

    1. I read everything to my mom before I post them. She, knowing he was fine laughed so hard at this account. Her response to these stories and all the comments may be my favorite part of this biogra-moir experience. Thank you for reading about Dave and taking the time to comment here and on FB. Thank you so much. XO M

Leave a Reply to Mardi Linane Cancel reply