It was a normal evening, whatever normal meant for spring 2001. In those days, I wasn’t a member of many message boards, if any at all. Instead, I spent my “extra” time chatting with family and friends on AIM.
Thursday evening, March 29, 2001, wasn’t different, except for the absence of a friend from the Monte Carlo Mailing List. His familiar ID was not on AIM that night. I was curious as to why, but I was preparing for my annual trek to the Nashville/Jackson/Big Sandy TN corridor, so I didn’t give it much thought.
The next morning, I loaded up my car and headed for Nashville. That Friday night, I received a call from another MCML member and friend. We chatted for a while, then he abruptly ended the call. A few minutes later, my phone rang again. It was another MCML member, who told me that Donnie had died in an automobile accident the morning before, Thursday, March 29, 2001. I knew why my other friend had abruptly ended the call … he couldn’t tell me what had happened.
It’s interesting, and sometimes weird, how a song will get attached to an event. The next morning, as I was headed to another destination, I heard, for the first time “in full”, the latest release by Vertical Horizon … Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning). The opening line grabbed my attention immediately, given the circumstances of Donnie’s crash. “So you sailed away, into a grey sky morning.”
On the way home from his overnight shift, Donnie guided his 1987 Monte Carlo SS onto the expressway in Little Rock AR in a heavy rainstorm. As he accelerated, the car hit a patch of water, hydroplaned, and skidded across the grassy median into oncoming traffic. Donnie’s car was hit in the driver’s side door by an oncoming Jeep. Donnie was killed instantly.
To this day, I can’t explain why Donnie’s death got to me as much as it did. After all, my original best friend died of an asthma attack, two days after Christmas 1987. And, I had experienced more personal losses since then … and since 2001. But, at the time, I was beginning to realize just how real friendships were with people that you had never met, but talked to all the time online or on the phone.
For that reason, Donnie’s death was one of the sparks that led to my annual road trips to meet people … while I still have time. After all, people is what it is all about. And, the road is what takes us to people … people with whom we may believe we only have one or two things in common but find out, upon meeting, that we have a lot more in common and feel like we’ve known each other forever. So, that means that the road … whether it is an interstate or an old 2 lane highway … is a highly coveted ribbon that interconnects people from all parts of life.
But, that’s the way it has been for a long time now. America’s “love affair” with the automobile … and movement … has connected people and places, even when no technology existed. With today’s technology, people are more connected than ever before. But, it is STILL the road that truly brings people together … and ties people to places and events irrevocably. And, that’s a good thing.