Funny you should ask ... Tim Gamble

What is the most scared you’ve ever been?

I grew up in the sixties, the sweet spot between World War II and Armageddon. Communism was on the rise. The atomic bomb was perfected. Nikita Khrushchev was threatening the world. The Cuban missile crisis brought annihilation to our doorstep. Al Scharf was the assistant principal at Arcadia High School. Any one of these things should scare the bejesus out of you, but altogether they gave me the attitude of, Oh well, what the hell!

The sixties also gave rise to an explosion of music through AM radio and top 40 stations. The music of our generation informed us. The traditional influences of family and religion gave way to the song writers and singers. We were listening. The poets of our time put our feelings into words we could understand, and we talked with each other using those words.

In 1968, everything changed with the Tet Offensive and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. Nobody cared about the Vietnam War until our friends started coming back home in body bags. The music, too, was forever changed. The words no longer expressed the innocent dreams of youth, but more the nihilistic rants of the counterculture. It was time for me to decide who I wanted to be. I wanted to be that kid who always looked on the bright side. I wanted to keep my youthful optimism, but I was perpetually pulled back into the culture. More and more, I began to be an observer of the world’s folly instead of participating in it, and I quickly developed a sardonic wit. I sat in the back of the room, so to speak, and made fun of absolutely everyone and everything. It was my emotional defense mechanism and it served me well. There’s a distinct difference between passive-aggressive resistance and the more playful, astute observation. One is mean, and the other is amusing. Even though I had a natural talent for serving up just the right remark to make any exchange humorous, I worked at it. I would review each conversation in my mind and come up with an even better retort if the opportunity ever came up again.

There were many times I should have been scared out of my wits, but my mind would always go to the humor of the situation, even if it were shocking, I might say something like, “Whoa, you don’t see that every day!” If circumstances were truly life threatening, my mind would hit another gear. Time would slow down to a near crawl; I would become emotionally detached and react silently, working my way, calmly, hyper focused, through the situation.

I woke up in the middle of the night with chest pains. I’ve had them before and I could stretch them out, but not this time. I thought maybe a hot shower would help loosen things up. It didn’t help. I decided to get in the car and head for the E.R. to get checked out. I didn’t get very far before the pain became unbearable. I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the hospital in our network. I knew of another small hospital that I’d passed by many times on the highway. I pulled into the parking lot. There was no emergency entrance. I rang the bell at the front door. A security guard came over and asked me through the intercom what I wanted. I told him I was having chest pains and I needed some help. He said this is a psychiatric hospital and they wouldn’t be able to do anything. I climbed back in the car and drove across the street to the Safeway to use the pay phone to call 911. I didn’t have any change. (I found out later you don’t need any money for an emergency call.) There was only one cashier at that time of night and there was a line of several shoppers ahead of me. I waited patiently for my turn and changed my dollar bill into quarters. and went back outside to call 911. I explained to the operator that I was having chest pains and needed some assistance. She said, “Stay on the line; I have an ambulance on the way.” The ambulance pulled up and the E.M.T.s started working on me. The ambulance was dispatched from the psychiatric hospital across the street. I asked if they were just taking me back across the street. They said no they’re taking me to Littleton Hospital which is where I was headed in the first place. I asked the 911 operator to call Sandy and let her know what was happening. Sandy got the call and thought she was being pranked. She said, “My husband’s right here.” When it finally dawned on her that I wasn’t there and this might be happening, she jumped in her car and raced off to the hospital.

I was in the ambulance, lights and sirens blaring, hooked up to all kinds of monitors, on my way to the hospital. The E.M.T.s were on the phone with the E.R. relaying the information they were receiving when suddenly the monitor started beeping and flashing. The two technicians jumped into action. One was repeating instructions while the other was preparing a cardiac needle. I looked down to watch what was happening as they were rubbing alcohol on my chest. I noticed one of the leads on my right side had fallen off. I said, “Wait, wait, wait! I think there’s a wire loose!” The technician reattached the lead and the beeping stopped.

We were almost to the hospital when I noticed a car coming up behind us. I don’t know how fast we were going but this car passed us like we were standing still. It was Sandy. When we got to the emergency room, Sandy was there waiting, frantically trying to find out what was happening. My gall bladder had ruptured. I needed emergency surgery. As I was laying on the gurney waiting to go into the surgical unit, Sandy asked me if I was scared. “Scared of what?” I asked. She admonished me and said, “This is serious. You’re going into surgery.” I told her, “What’s probably going to happen is, I’ll count back from a hundred and by the time I get to 98 some nurse will be slapping my cheek telling me to wake up. You’re the one who’ll have to sit around worrying for the next few hours.” When I saw her in the recovery room, she asked me how I was. I told her, “She was right; it was much worse than I imagined.” She asked me, “What happened.” I told her, “When I was counting back from a hundred, I got all the way to 97, It was terrifying.”

Sandy, her grandfather, and I were spending some time at our mountain home in Bailey, Colorado. When it was time to get back to the city, we decided to take the Guanella Pass Road into Georgetown and take I-70 home. The 38-mile scenic road from Bailey to Georgetown crests at more than 11,000 ft. and then drops down to 8,500 ft. in Georgetown over the last nine miles. The road was rough going. The snows had barely melted, and the dirt roads were full of rocks and ruts. We finally made it to the summit at Guanella Pass and the views were spectacular. The road on the way down to Georgetown was paved. The snow on the side of the road was still piled high from the snowplows. Just above Georgetown, the road bends to the left and then makes an abrupt hairpin turn to the right. I put on my brakes, but the car barely slowed down as it careened around the corner. Both Sandy and her grandfather, yelled at me to slow down. I told her I didn’t have any brakes. The next hairpin curve came up and as I turned the steering wheel the car brushed up against the snowbank. On the other side of the snowbank was a steep drop and an uncertain future. The car was picking up speed. Sandy looked at me and excitedly asked, “What are we going to do?” With steely-eyed focus, I said, “Not now. I’ve got this!” We hit another two hairpin turns bashing the side of the car each time into the snowbank before the road straightened out. We were still going about 30 miles an hour when we flew through the first intersection in Georgetown with my hand firmly blasting the horn on the steering wheel as we went. We blew through several more intersections until we ran out of road on the gravel apron of the Georgetown reservoir. The gravel was enough to slow the car to a stop. I saw in my rearview mirror that smoke was billowing up from behind the car. I said, “Everybody out!” The brakes at the rear of the car were glowing red and smoking. I looked at Sandy and asked, “Anybody up for a drink? It’s happy hour. I think we passed a few bars on the way down here.” We walked back to town and stopped at the first bar we came to and ordered drinks. I told the waitress we were celebrating. “What are you celebrating, she asked? “A successful trip through Georgetown,” I said as I raised my glass. “What do you think of our little town so far,” she asked? “Well, we just took a quick look, but we’re all happy to be here.”

There were a couple of other times I was confronted with a gun in my face. One incident I’ve already described the other took place just outside of Reno, Nevada. I’d been working in Denver for about 8 months. Sandy decided to leave California and join me. I flew out to San Francisco and rented a U-Haul Truck. All I needed was a 10-footer with a trailer hitch to pull Sandy’s car. A 24-foot truck was all I could find. We loaded up a few feet of the truck and took off. Sandy had 2 cats. We bought a top loading wire cage with heavy spring latches and placed the cats in the cage. We secured the cage on the back seat of Sandy’s Volkswagen beetle with a seat belt and off we went.

As we headed up the Sierras on I-80 a car pulled up alongside us. The driver was beeping his horn and pointing to the back of our truck. I pulled over and saw the tires of Sandy’s Volkswagen smoking. It seems the cats had gotten out of the cage, well at least one did. The other was trapped halfway out and in obvious pain. The cat that managed to escape the cage had knocked the gear shift into second gear. We’d been dragging our car behind us.

We fixed the situation and brought the cats into the cab with us. They were crazed. Meowing and clawing at everything. Before we left, we purchased some tranquilizers from the vet. He cautioned us to only use them as a last resort if the cats were stressed. The cats were stressed. We gave them each a pill. All the pills did was slow down their motion. They were still just as terrified but clawing the air in slow motion. Sandy tried holding them in a towel. They were left bug-eyed and panting.

It was late in the evening by the time we got to Reno and decided to keep going. About twenty miles on the other side of Reno, near Sparks, I noticed that the gas gauge was near empty. Dragging the car behind us up the Sierras had really done a number on our gas mileage. We passed a highway sign letting us know there was a gas station a few miles ahead. We made it as far as the highway off ramp. We climbed out of the truck, got the gas can from Sandy’s car, and headed through the underpass to the gas station. It was a small bank of pumps outside a little café. The café was closed. I tried to see if there was any gas left in the hoses but each one was locked to the pump. I told Sandy we should see if there is anyone inside the café who could help us. I knocked on the front door. A light came on and a small man with a large gun opened the door. He pointed it right in my face and asked what we were doing there. I explained that we ran out of gas, and we needed to fill the gas can. He motioned with his gun for Sandy to get inside the café and locked the door behind her. He motioned for me to start walking and told me to show him where the truck had run out of gas. We walked under the freeway until he saw the truck on the off ramp.

He was still uneasy when we made it back to the café. Sandy was convinced she’d never see me again. The man with the gun introduced himself as PJ. He apologized for the dramatic reaction to our knock at the door and went on to explain he’d had a lot of trouble with vandalism late at night. Normally there wouldn’t be anyone at the café at that hour. “Lucky me!” I exclaimed. PJ turned on the pumps and filled the gas can and the truck when I returned. He asked us if we were hungry and made us a couple of sandwiches. I asked him if he really would have shot me if the truck wasn’t there. He said he wasn’t sure, but he thought he might, given that some of the other merchants along the highway had been hurt during similar situations. When we got on the road again, Sandy told me how terrified she was. She asked me if I was scared too. I said, “Not really. I knew I was telling the truth. I knew our truck was on the off ramp. What was there to fear?” “He had a gun in your face, you idiot,” she replied. “Yeah, well, there’s that, I guess, but everything turned out fine, right?”

So, what is the most scared I’ve ever been? It’s hard to say. I’ve been startled, apprehensive, cautious, but scared? Not really, it seems according to Sandy, I have no common sense. I don’t know, maybe, oh well, what the hell, moving on.

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