A little back story: It was a summer night in 1999. I was driving my first car, a 1989 Chevy Celebrity that I had owned for a few months. I was still a very cautious, courteous driver at this point. On this particular night, for some reason, I decided that going to Denny’s would be a good idea. Going to Denny’s is never a good idea, unless perhaps you are looking to achieve a total system flush promptly upon finishing your meal… possibly even in the car. But the food is of little consequence in this tale. Even the setting itself is arbitrary, as this story takes place within the confines of a parking lot.
So, let’s picture young Mr. Newman driving his prized Chevy Celebrity. Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, at that point cars were strictly point A to point B transportation. Occasionally he would venture to point C, but never further than E. Today he was pulling in to point D: Denny’s.
They were doing some remodeling to this particular Denny’s at this point in time. It was the Camp road location, in beautiful Hamburg, NY. The entrance to the Denny’s had been torn up and replaced with stone. It was really the only construction visible in the parking lot, so I’m sure the driver of the conversion van (to be described later) was unaffected by it. Being the cautious driver I was, my speed was already greatly reduced as I pulled into the lot, the stones just added to my alertness and subsequently decreased my speed to a crawl. It was at this point that I noticed the conversion van, driving briskly through the parking lot.
It was a rusty 80’s style conversion van. The standard, stylish airbrushing had begun to give way to a liberal army of rust making it’s way north from a well established base above the rear wheel. I am a poor judge of speed (a number of officers will concur), but I would estimate the van was traveling at nearly 10MPH, in a direction perfectly perpendicular to me. The were coming towards me in a manner where it appeared we would intersect if I did not stop, so, I stopped. I was 100% not moving. The van was going to pass in roughly 10 feet in front of me; plenty of room. As the van approached I was able to see the driver and passenger, sitting high in the custom, plush bucket seats.
The driver, on the side further away from me was a middle aged man. He appeared to be agitated. He was not facing forward; he was glaring into the restaurant to his left, I was to his right. I got the feeling he was actually circling the restaurant… looking for something. At any rate, whether he was searching for a cheating wife, or perhaps simply annoyed due to waiting for a late family member, he was not looking forward. Neither was his passenger. He was looking directly forward.
In fact, the passenger couldn’t look any where but forward. He was a young boy, no more than 12 years old. His gaze was perpetually locked forward by the neck brace that he was wearing. Yes, a plastic neck brace. I can only speculate, but later it may become apparent later as to why he wearing that particular device. He is also wearing glasses that are comically thick - the kind that distort the wearer’s eyes to the point where it appears to be some sort of cruel optician’s sick joke. Though I can’t tell it this point, the boy is wearing his seat belt, but has the shoulder portion of the restraint behind him. Perhaps the neck brace impedes the belt.
At about the instant the van driver is about to cross in front of my already stopped vehicle, it appears that he decides it would be a good idea to check his surroundings. He breaks his gaze from the restaurant. He finally notices my position. Thinking that I am still moving forward, he panics. When bad drivers panic, the instinct that takes over is usually a frantic brake mashing. This particular driver followed suit. It’s hard to describe what happens next to really convey the 2 seconds of pure comedy that resulted from this act. If a picture is worth 1000 words, a movie would have been worth a million. What happens next will, for the rest of my life, cause me to laugh almost uncontrollably. It’s the kind of comedy that only real life can provide.
Dad slams the brakes. The car stops almost instantaneously. At that point, physics takes over. I’ve replayed this series of images over in my head that it now happens in slow motion. The car lurches to a halt; inertia pitches the massive van forward and down. Inertia also forces the boy’s body forward, but the lap belt keeps his waist secure.
The way in which the child’s face slams into the dashboard is simply cartoonish. His glasses fly into the windshield and his face contorts to the shape of the dash. The neck brace fails to yield and his body crumples quite interestingly up against his head. The springs on the van decompress, much to the chagrin of the tired struts; the boy’s frame becomes a classic example of vicious whiplash. His shocked face still appears to be in a shape that would perfectly mold to the dash. He remains upright.
I instantly begin to laugh. Through my tears, I am able to verify that the father has indeed realized what has happened to his son. It appears that the son is alright… I continue to laugh and proceed cautiously on my way.