Davey Shephard – Hindsight

Tenx9 newcomer Davey Shephard recounts a firework mishap and wonders whether it truly was a catastrophe. 

In hindsight yes, I should’ve never picked up that mortar tube, but you know, in hindsight, twenty year old me should have never been put in charge of a fireworks display. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college and as I had done for the last five years, I spent three weeks of my summer at a camp in Gore, West Virginia. I had grown up at this camp, and had made the fabled transition from immature camper, running around scaring staff members, to immature staff member running around scaring campers. It was my favorite part of summer and this particular week had an added bonus. For the first time since I had begun working there, the Fourth of July was going to fall during a week of camp.

At our normal pre-camp staff meeting I heard our Director discussing how the night would unfold. The sports team (which I was a part of) would be responsible for putting on the fireworks show, while all other staff members stood with the campers across the large sports field in the designated safe area. Following the meeting I was handed a couple hundred dollars cash that had been budgeted for the show. I was on cloud nine. Not only was I getting paid to put on a fireworks display, but I was in the middle of possibly the best place in America to buy fireworks, Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. Myself, the Sports Director and the Head of Security piled in a pickup and took off down the dirt road headed for the Holy Land. Our discussion was focused on the pageantry that we would present to the Campers. There was talk of choreographed explosions, a separate light show, and whether or not any of the kids would know Springsteen’s “Born in the USA”. A few hours later we returned with the goods and packed them away safely until the big night had finally arrived.

The first few days of camp went by slow. It was our last week there, so some sleep deprived hysteria had set in, but it felt like the entire staff was in a lull just waiting for the fourth to get there. And it wasn’t just waiting on a day to arrive…there was a palpable anticipation that something was going to happen. Jokes were tossed around about someone blowing their hand off, or burning the gym down, or the camp getting sued, but despite the naysayers, the fourth arrived and the show went on as scheduled. Myself and my teammates had everything in place. Our stockpile of explosives set off to the right, some sheets of quarter inch plywood to make a nice balanced launch site, and we had even placed all of the mortar tubes inside of cinderblocks to make sure that they didn’t fall over. We had crossed our T’s and dotted our lower case J’s. We were going to put on a show that would make the founding fathers proud.

As the campers made their way down the hill to the sports field, we had the kiddie stuff out. A few bottle rockets twisted together, some roman candles, a box of Saturn missiles, your basic backyard fireworks. The idea was to slow play them into thinking we didn’t have anything good, and then as soon as the music kicked in, fire up the big guns. As the students arrived into place, a small crowd of staff members had formed around us. It is important to note, that they were not in the pre-approved safe areas that they were supposed to be in.

This is also probably a good time to mention that as much as I hate to admit it, I’m a bit of a showman. I do this thing where I get a mental image in my head of how something should play out, and then spend an inordinate amount of energy trying to make that happen. That being the case, things got off to a terrible start. The first song that came out of the sound system was Lee Greenwoods “proud to be an American” instead of James Browns “Living in America”. No disrespect meant to Mr. Greenwood, his song just lacked the excitement level we were going for that night. To make matters worse, we were forced to face a harsh reality: Every one of us lacked the mental capacity to time fireworks to music. This is an extremely difficult job, and I am still impressed every time I see it successfully done. So, my well timed fireworks show, that I had planned on being similar to Apollo Creed’s ring introduction before his fight with Drago, had turned into alternating mortars exploding while Lee Greenwood passionately sang in the background. I was soon pushed to the brink. One of the guys accidentally loaded a mortar upside down, exploding two tubes, the cinder block and almost his leg. He escaped physical injury, but I knew something greater was at risk, we were about to lose the audience.

Down to two tubes, and with more than half of our fireworks still awaiting their destiny I knew something had to be done. I opened a package that was marketed to me by the salesman as “The baddest thing we got”. He assured me that it would be bigger, brighter and louder than anything else in the store. I picked the tube up and placed the mortar inside. However instead of sitting it back on the ground, I held it out in front of me at an angle of about 55 degrees. The idea was simple, I’ll shoot the best mortar we have, a little bit closer to them, so that it’s even bigger, even brighter and even louder than it would’ve been. I could hear the gasps and groans of “no Davey!” behind me, but it was too late. I was married to this idea. I lit the fuse, and awaited the results.

It was at this precise moment where everything turned to slow motion. I watched as the fuse burnt to the halfway point and decided to place a second hand on the tube for more stability. This was my downfall. The sparks from the fuse got in my arm hair, and I immediately dropped the tube in what was surely the least masculine way possible. I watched the mortar tube tip and tilt for what seemed like an eternity. Would it point directly at me? Behind me at all of the staffers? Harmlessly over the hill? The answer is none of the above. It pointed directly at our stockpile of fireworks. A second later our biggest, brightest and loudest mortar screamed 15 feet directly into several hundred dollars’ worth of live fireworks. Carnage ensued.

The next two minutes were a blur. Booms and bangs, hisses and screams, flashes of every color, and the smoke, so much smoke you could hardly breathe. I saw grown men scream and sprint down the hill. I saw four people dive out of a golf cart like they were cartoon characters. And without being melodramatic, I think I saw my own life flash before my eyes. As the last of the fireworks went off and the smoke started to clear people began to get back on their feet. All eyes were on me. But before anyone could start yelling, what can only be described as a deafening roar came from across the field, culminating in a classic chant of “USA, USA, USA”.  We checked all of the staff members to see if there were any injuries, and somehow there were none. The field was cleared, and I was lectured for over an hour for my stunt. But despite the cries from the administration there was only one topic of discussion for the rest of the week: the fireworks show. In hindsight, yes I could’ve killed someone, or myself. But I didn’t. To this day, on the fourth of July I still get texts or Facebook posts bring up that night. So, I’m gonna go on the record and say I did a pretty damn good job, even in hindsight.

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John Sloop – Hindsight

First-timer John Sloop shares of adventures in the rain, at 9pm, after too much to drink…

One of the things you discover when you and your best friend decide to hitchhike together  at 9PM in the rain after a couple of pitchers of beer is that the only people who will pick you up are the types of people who would think it wise to hitchhike in the rain at 9PM after a couple of pitchers of beer.  I’ve tested this theory:  it’s a fairly small segment of the population.

Nonetheless, that was the situation in which I found myself in late March of 1982.  My best friend Michael and I had gotten this now seemingly ludicrous idea to hitchhike to Chapel Hill from Boone, North Carolina while drinking one Friday night.  At the time, Boone was something of a musical desert, and Chapel Hill was a close enough college town (a little over four hours) with a good enough music scene that one of us came up with the idea to go see anyone who happened to be playing in the area that weekend.  The idea of waiting another week never even came up.  The idea that the earliest we would get there would be after bars were closed was not only not a deterrent; it wasn’t even a consideration.  We were drunk, entwined in a powerful bromance and ready for an adventure, so we set out, directly from the bar to the highway—where, again, it was raining.

After standing under a bridge on the outskirts of town with our thumbs out for an hour or so, with our excitement waning, a pair of guys, just having left a different bar—and also fairly drunk–stopped to pick us up.  They were on their way home to North Wilkesboro, about thirty miles in the direction of Chapel Hill.  This seemed promising. As it turned out, for a brief few minutes, it was heavenly:  the car was warm, the guys were playing Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman,” and we all engaged in some nice drunken banter.

The problem was that by the time we got to North Wilkesboro, still over 3 hours to our destination, it was almost 11 PM and pouring down rain.  We had the driver let us out on the edge of town, underneath a bridge, where we decided we would have better luck in the morning and settled down to sleep for the night.

The next morning, hungover, cold and achy, we got back on the road with that sense of optimism that always comes with a new day.  Several hours and several car rides later—an off duty Sheriff, a local minister, and a farmer each gave us rides of varying lengths–we eventually reached Winston-Salem in time to eat an early lunch from the Kroger Deli.  Sitting outside in the sun, I felt optimistic that we could catch a quick ride to Greensboro and then get off on highway 54 in to Chapel Hill by later afternoon.

I did not, however, count on how difficult it would be to catch a ride on the interstate as opposed to the state highways we had traveled on up to that point.  No one seemed interested in picking up a pair of disheveled young men.  I figure it was a mix of there being two of us and the fact that we were pretty unattractive by this point.  After over an hour of trying, watching literally hundreds of cars pass us, we were discussing abandoning the entire project. If we could have thought of other options, perhaps we would have quit.  Honestly, however, the idea of triumphantly bragging to friends about our adventure kept us out there.

During this conversation, a green Nova passed us, slammed on its brakes and slid off the road into the emergency lane.  I immediately started running to the car, but Michael grabbed my arm and indicated that he didn’t think it was such a good idea: “Something seems wrong here,” he said.

Having waited ninety minutes, however, I was not about to let the ride go. “Come on,” I said, “We’ll be ok.”  Michael hesitantly followed me to the car and climbed in the back, with me in the front.

Immediately, it was clear that Michael was right; this was a mistake.  Not only did the car smell like a weird combination of liquor and sweat, but the driver was twitchy and his eyes unfocused.  As soon as the car returned to the road, he took it to 95 miles per hour.  I immediately went into some mix of panic and shock and the situation become more and more surreal (so much so that I’ve checked the facts of this story with Michael to separate fantasy from fact).  The driver, who “introduced” himself as Bob, went on a rant about a recent bad break up and repeatedly mentioned that he had been drinking too much and had taken too many pills.  Really?  Too much to drink and too many pills? Were we on a hidden camera? Could this be happening? Did he just mumble those words? “Too much alcohol. Too many pills.” Again, really?

Those questions were sorta floating in a mix of freaked out panic and white line fear.  I remember watching other cars literally drive off of the interstate to get out of our way.  For a brief second, I hoped a cop would start chasing us, but I wasn’t quite sure if that would make things better or worse. Just as I was about to ask Bob to slow down, I felt Michael tap me on the shoulder.  I turned to see him holding a tiny pocket knife and indicating that he was about to . . .  well, about to do just what? Stab Bob? Threaten him?  Have me take over the wheel while he held the tiny knife on Bob’s throat?  I wasn’t quite sure what he had in mind; I only knew it was likely to make the situation worse.

My next move was not thought out well or even at all: I shouted the one single thing about the universe that I was sure of at that moment: “I need to pee really badly, Bob.”

That somehow resonated with Bob, who pulled off the road to let me out to relieve myself.  “I’ll wait for you,” he slurred. “No, no, we’re leaving,” Michael said.  And, as freaked out as we were, we ran up the bank next to the interstate and over a fence, both of us certain that Bob would chase us down with the car and kill us.

After we got over the fence, we realized that we had travelled 30 minutes and were in Greensboro.  Not at all interested in getting back into another car, we went to the first building we saw—an African American church that was holding some type of celebration.  While skeptical and suspicious of the two by now filthy young white men, the congregation invited us in, allowed us to use the phone and offered us slices of apple pie.

After discovering that none of our friends were willing to drive from Boone to pick us up, we hit on the idea of going to the local Greyhound bus station and getting a bus ride to Chapel Hill.  After buying our tickets, we got on the bus and found two seats next to each other.  As soon as I sat down, I felt the exhaustion that replaces an adrenaline rush settling in and fell asleep.

Whenever I told the story of that weekend later-and believe me, I told it a lot–people would say any number of things—in addition to “You idiot”—about what I likely learned from the encounter and about what I would do differently if I was to do it again.  “I bet you wouldn’t try that again,” someone might say, or “I bet you wish you hadn’t gotten in that green car.”

And, for the longest while, I agreed.  “In hindsight,” I would think, “I shouldn’t have been so dumb as to get in that car.  What the hell was I thinking?”  Or “In hindsight, we should have planned the trip further in advance.”

But, now looking back on the feeling of sitting in a warm bus, feeling safe, and leaning shoulder to shoulder up against my best friend while we fell asleep, knowing that we solidified a bond we would have forever . . . .thinking back on that, in retrospect, in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Nichole Perkins – Hindsight

Four-time Tenx9 storyteller Nichole Perkins shares a lovely 5-minute story on missing opportunities for international travel.

Someday. Now.

During Freshman Week, my first week of college, I fell in love at first sight. He was tall, with hair like Sideshow Bob, and stood behind the DJ table, controlling the room with music. After we became a couple, we’d argue over what he was wearing that day. I’d say it was a hockey jersey with his astrological sign on it. (It was the mid-90s. Fashion was… interesting). I don’t remember what he thought he was wearing. His memory isn’t important because I know I was right.

Our relationship lasted my entire 4 years of college. I’d walk by posters proclaiming opportunities to travel abroad, but I was too afraid to sign up. I’d think “what if he misses me? What if he doesn’t miss me? What if…” When he had the chance to travel to Aruba for something similar to Semester at Sea, well… He sent me a postcard. His mom called him then she called me, and he and I talked over three-way, trying to send PG-rated, coded messages so his mom wouldn’t know how much we missed each other.

And he did miss me. And when our 4 years ended, he had stamps on his passport, pictures of his bronzed skin, and I had “someday.”

Graduation. A new job, but international travel is so expensive. Plus I don’t want to go alone. I could go with my best friend, but aren’t you supposed to share beaches and red wine and decadent foods with someone you trade nightly snuggles with?

So… someday.

And now a new boyfriend. He doesn’t like labels, even though he has his own toothbrush next to mine and a special section of my refrigerator for his food. Maybe he’d like to take a trip with me to a place where the language sounds like “omigod keep talking.” But no. That seems like too much of a commitment, and then he was gone, too, but there was “someday,” still sitting on my shelf.

I moved across country but still here. Still America. Then a new boyfriend who barely wanted to do more than dinner and a movie on Friday night. Best friends suggested trips but I wanted romance, not girl time. I couldn’t see that friendship remained while romance faded.

Another new job. Passports are how much? It’ll take how long to get it back? Well… someday, yes?

Depression. Go back home. Wouldn’t it be great to get away? Everyone’s married now. Everyone’s a mom now. Everyone travels only where their jobs send them now. Still… someday…

And here I am. All those old loves I was afraid to leave—only a Facebook click away! All the money I was afraid to spend—stuck on my hips. All the friendships I was afraid to prioritize—still here. Still here.

Where would I be without fear? Would I be in the south of France, baguette crumbs accessorizing my smile? In Morocco, colors of every jewel populating my everyday? Would I still be stateside, but free of regret?

Who’s to say? I’ve looked back so much, you can pinch my cheek to season your fries.

I’m here now, a stamp-free passport in my purse.

Step one: Complete
Step two: in progress…

Someday is happening now.

Hindsight – The Understory

Cary’s summary of the evening. Written live as the stories are told & then performed…

 

In hindsight,
It shoulda been James Brown
But then in hindsight you shoulda played safer
You coulda killed someone, or (more importantly) yourself

You should known he’s the same crazy guy your father’s always been
You coulda gotten it sooner
Woulda known sooner

You coulda gone sooner
Woulda seen Paris already
You coulda stopped waiting for someday
You coulda realised, someday is now.

But then, in hindsight
You coulda x-rayed that finger
Shoulda seen another doctor
Then again, the doctor shoulda listened to his wife.

The surgery should’ve made her better, you thought.
Just like your grandmother shoulda gone that morning.
But then…
That morning was full of

Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda…

You coulda taken French
You shoulda fessed up
You coulda fixed that wall
Coulda dropped that class
But then, where would you be?

You coulda had more to drink
You coulda had less
Could’ve ignored that girl
Could’ve died at the wheel
You shoulda thrown up…
But you didn’t.

You woulda been braver if you could
Wouldn’t have shaken if you could
Would’ve taken control if you could
Been less angry if you could.
But you couldn’t.
And you shouldn’t.

In hindsight you shoulda waited another week
Taken another ride.
Some journeys are meant to be less travelled.

But.
Shoulda. Woulda. Coulda.
Like a bright blue morning in September,
Our stories are full of ’em…

20/20 rarely makes for a good story,
Don’t change a thing.