One Month Ago: The light turns green and I toe the shifter down into 1st gear and let the clutch out till I feel the plates touch, nudging the bike ready to roll, but I wait. The black Lexis in front of me hesitates then goes. I catch a motion in the corner of my left eye that doesn’t seem right and immediately pull the clutch back in all the way and replant my feet astride my motionless bike. In an instant the black Lexis which has pulled 30 feet in front of me from a dead stop into the intersection on a clearly green light is broad sided by a big green Ford F-250, obviously running a red light at the intersection of Houze Road and Mansell Road in Roswell, Ga. The sickening sound of smashing metal and crashing glass pierces my ears and the small car is flipped onto its side like a toy and thrown 50 feet across the intersection landing upside-down. Plastic and glass crumple and shatter before me and I am sprayed with the aftermath of the carnage as I sit in disbelief on my dresser. I literally see the Asian woman’s head smash her driver’s window out on impact before the whole thing careens out of control across the intersection. “But for the Grace of God, There go I”, words uttered by English Martyr John Bradford around 1550. Yea, — what he said! Another 3 seconds and I’m dead. TIMING son, timing.
Thirty years ago: I stood at the bar with Uncle Tommy, our bikes parked outside and we talked about what 20 year olds talk about. A figure approached from behind and before I could turn he swung and caught me closed fisted on the right temple. Dazed, I grabbed the bar with my left hand to balance and bobbed low and right for the follow up swing that never came. In his hesitation, the man unknown to me to this day, immediately smashed his face into the Budweiser long neck held in my right hand. Blood and beer and glass soaked us both and we crashed to the ground, knocking over stools and a few patrons. It matters not how the night ended. He had mistaken me for an enemy, with vision and judgment clouded by “the drink.” My headache, nowadays called a concussion, lasted for weeks. BOOZE baby, booze.
“Booze and Timing.” I had never until recently heard the words strung together but have been aware of and privy to their fickle effect throughout my life, as I am sure you have. Coupled together, these concepts can alter the course of fate and change outcomes of an evening with friends or perhaps even twist the course of history forever. As a philosophical matter, these coupled words were never uttered to me together in a conjoined phrase until a few weeks ago. I sat at a biker clubhouse with some friends discussing another friend’s accidental death on his motorcycle. The deceased had imbibed in a couple, and the old lady who ran him over had run the red light unaware of its timing. In speaking of the unfortunate and deadly chain of events my friend Travis shook his head looking about at the rest of our group and muttered almost to himself “Booze and Timing Man.” At that point my senses told me that he had made a statement that had often been shared by the present group, in occurrences involving bizarre chains of events, where timing, alcohol and perhaps both had played a role in shaping the outcome. I watched as all present shook their heads in agreement, as if the words were a code. I queried my riding pals about the origins of the phrase and they all looked at each other and half smirked at my ignorance. Clearly, this was an inside saying and I, as usual, was on the outside. My friend Trav looked about and sensing my curiosity leaned in close to accentuate the importance of what he was about to say to me in a half whisper, like it was some kind of secret. “Booze and Timing Man, it changes the game plan, whether you like it or not.”
I thought about this idea hard in the weeks that followed, especially thinking of the Asian woman in the black Lexis whose limp body I helped pull from the smoking wreckage. She lived, a miracle given the violence which had occurred. It struck me that her timing was seconds, maybe milliseconds off, as was that of the lady in the big green Ford. A second here, a second there, a collision of coincidence? “Timing” it is said, “is everything.” What if Paul Revere had a slower horse? —Timing? What if the 16,000 plus people killed by drunk drivers in the US last year were still alive? — Booze? What if….. The fickle finger of fate points at us all eventually. Some things we can affect, some things we cannot. But booze and timing can explain a lot of results that we otherwise simply shake our heads at.
As the weeks passed and the miles on the bike clicked away I became keenly aware of two things in my analysis of the ‘Booze and Timing’ adage. One: the “booze” part is something that you can easily control for yourself, but not for others. Two: ‘Timing’ is something that we are woefully ignorant of in our day to day existence. When your timing is off, bad things can happen. The ideology of the short string of words struck a chord deep in my brain and I found myself pondering its greater meaning as I rode my bike around in a more conservative fashion than usual. I even thought that perhaps I was over analyzing the existential nature of the phrase. I recalled a college philosophy professor who pontificated in Latin, I am sure to impress the girls seated up front in his class. I must admit that my memories of those undergraduate days are foggy. While perched atop his desk my professor, with index finger pointed to the heavens, loudly proclaimed “audaces fortuna iuvat” (Fortune follows the brave). I thought him wildly eccentric and bright. The girls would giggle and blush and we young men would stare and envy his bravado and intellect. After many years tempered with what I like to call mature reflection I now understand his delight with clever adages cloaked in dead language. A catch phrase for a business or a clever saying uttered at the right time can be invaluable in a business meeting or to a jury on a bike wreck trial. For years my firm maintained an informal saying that “Our Lawyers Can Kick Your Lawyer’s Ass.” A fun Law Firm quip, but not quite what I would tattoo on my forearm. My friend JB Walker, the musician, has at times in deep discussion uttered lines from William Henley’s poem “invictus,” penned in 1875. The poem ends with “…Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the horror of the shade. – And yet the menace of the years, Finds, and shall find me, unafraid. – It matters not how straight the gate, How charged with punishment the scroll. – I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” EXCELLENT!! So much so that my friend JB tattooed it on his forearm. “INVICTUS” – Indeed, means “unconquerable”. Clever, yes, very clever. How that ink actually came to pass? Well, booze and timing I suppose.
To this I raise my finger to the heavens and exclaim loudly for the entire world to hear “alcolicio atque tempus”. My old Latin serves me well upon occasion. Well enough for translation of “Booze and Timing,” perhaps not yet enough to ink the same on my forearm. My friend Travis perhaps? Only Booze and Timing will tell????? –Irish