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The Day I Played Chicken with a MACK Truck

November 23rd, 2014 2 comments

2 inches more inches and I wouldn’t be writing this post.

I shouldn’t be here.

20 years ago today I was in accident which if the MACK truck hit me any harder I would have had a part of my car through my head.

Me inside the 1981 Monte Carlo

My 18th birthday and the new ride

The year was 1994, I was a freshman at UPT and it was the day before Thanksgiving break. I told my friend Kristi that I would drive her home so her parents wouldn’t have to come get her. It wasn’t really on the route that I would normally drive home but it wasn’t too far out of the way either and I like driving through PA in the fall. What we didn’t expect was the amount of snow that would fall while we were sleeping.

My car was a gem. Near mint condition Midnight Blue 1981 Monte Carlo. FAT wheels on the back and the car could haul some serious ass. It was a present from my parents for my 18th birthday and I loved this car. I was never a car guy growing up but this beast was amazing. It was fast, powerful and turned heads everywhere I went. I can still feel the steering wheel grip in my hands and myself sitting in it. The car was my baby.

When we woke on the morning of November 23rd, the ground was covered in white. We heard there might be snow but this was more than a dusting. We got slammed. Growing up in Erie, driving in the snow is like any other day so I didn’t think twice about it. I loaded up the car with my clothes, an N64 I rented from the local video store and her luggage. No sweat. This drive will be longer but easy.

We were just outside of Spartansburg when the snow was starting to let up but all cars were taking it slow as we were starting to come down a hill. As we approached a bend I saw a MACK truck was coming up the hill but something was off. He was driving in the middle of the road! With the roads covered in snow there wasn’t much to do but hold on. I tried to move the car off to the side of the road but it was too late. My focus went from the whole road to zooming in on the point of impact.

BOOM! CRASH! KABLAM!

The car is thrown partially into a ditch and someone’s front yard plus I’m knocked out. Kristi shakes me to wake me up and all I see is a mangled hood through my windshield and the engine on fire. People from the house came out to check on me and phoned 911 but they were Amish (I was told) so they had to run to a nearby building which had a phone. Medics arrive on the scene and load me into the ambulance. State police arrive and start grilling me on what happened. I’m barely functional and this guy wont let up to get me to say I caused the accident. What I didn’t know at the time was that the car behind me was my English professor and saw the whole thing. I would find out later that she confirmed my story but that apparently wasn’t enough for the trooper.

I’m rushed to the hospital in nearby Corry where Kristi’s mom happens to work. I’m in and out of consciousness and recall my trip to get scanned but not much more. I can hear the doctors talking but I can’t open my eyes. I was freaking out and relaxed at the same time. Was I dead?

By the grace of God the only injuries I had were a banged up knee that smashed into the dashboard and a concussion from my head hitting the steering wheel since cars weren’t made with airbags back then. The medics apparently waited around to see if I was OK and handed me the hood ornament from my car which I still have today. The doctors tell me that one of the medics said that if I was hit any harder or moved in the slightest, a piece of the frame would have shot up through the floor and killed me instantly.

I’m discharged and spend time back at Kristi’s house while we wait for my parent’s to arrive. I’m sure that wasn’t a pleasant phone call to my parents to let them know their son was in an accident with a MACK truck. We meet at a McDonald’s in town and then made the tough trip to the junk yard where my car was towed. I do a quick job cleaning out my personal materials out of the car and say goodbye. If I was driving any other car my family had at the time I know I wouldn’t be writing this now.

I was lucky. No, I was DAMN lucky.

It would take me a few years before I was back to 100%. My headaches were severe for a few months following and what  a lot of people don’t know is that I was a distance runner for years. After that wreck I wouldn’t even attempt to run again for 20 years.

I have never gone back to the site of the accident after we took pictures to have on record but thanks to Google Maps and Photoshop here is the location with a little from 1994 and 20 years later and a very young version of me.

The accident 1994 and 2014

This is a collection of all of the photos of the car after the accident when we visited the junkyard to collect the rest of my personal items.

 

Categories: Erie, Family, Misc.

Discovering Pittsburgh through my kids – Museums

July 24th, 2014 4 comments

I’m a history junkie. Most of my friends know this and if you didn’t, now you do also. I love historical events and stories more than saaaay art.

trex

Growing up I dragged my family to Gettysburg roughly 18 times while dad was on his business trips for the state. Something about the Civil War sucked me in (ask me about General Lee being a midget some day) but I had zero interest in the history of my hometown of Erie.

Looking back we never learned about the War of 1812 even though we’re the home of the Flagship Niagara and the only reason why I liked going to the Erie Historical Museum was to touch the kettle Mad Anthony Wayne had his bones boiled in. What adolescent boy wouldn’t love that!

I loved the Carnegie Museum of Natural History when we would visit Pittsburgh because they had a T-Rex and dinosaur bones galore. I had the shirts, posters, heck I WAS Dino Dan… err Doug.  Beyond that though most museums were kinda boring to a kid. Technology wasn’t like it is today and honestly you can only look at so many pieces of paper, clay figurines and touch a piece of wood that was on something famous before you get bored.

Today is different and Pittsburgh makes learning fun.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Locals already know how cool this place is but if you’re new to the area, grew up with experiences such as mine, or are parents, let me explain.

This museum is tricked out. There are interactive screens and movies that can suck you in. The displays are filed with color and excitement and my kids LOVE that they can be hands on with many of the items. Gone are the days of walking in line and getting yelled at if you touch something. OK within reason touching something. Don’t take selfies with the bears.

Derda Boys Carnegie Museum

My kids love the excavation site where they can get down and dirty “unearthing” remains with their picks, goggles and brushes. Every weekend we’ve attended there has been something hands on so they can feel the science. Not everything has gone to the kids so don’t get the impression that it’s getting cartoonish. The museum has made the experience interactive so you feel like you’re a part of it. They made history fun!

It is also attached to the Carnegie Library, which has made an impact on me, and I’ll touch on it tomorrow.

Membership information can be found here. Join and you also get admission into Carnegie Museum of Art, The Andy Warhol Museum, and Carnegie Science Center (including Highmark SportsWorks®) This is seriously a great deal even if you only visit a couple of places. Parking is relatively cheap also at around $5.

Carnegie Science Center
The science center isn’t a museum but is part of the membership you can purchase here so I wanted to make sure it gets a mention. I love it for the submarine, planetarium and omnimax theater. Kids love the Highmark SportsWorks because they can get tossed and thrown around by science.

DerdaBoysScienceCenter

Its a win-win for all families and deserves a post of it’s own on here down the road. With 20 breweries in the SWPA area I hope to one day see a small segment dedicated to the brewing process. Give me a call people, we’ll make it work.

Children’s Museum
This isn’t your traditional museum and is more of a creative playhouse for all ages. I’ve learned a lot about my boys from spending the past 7.5 months home with them but the Children’s Museum taught me so much more. My 3yr old is very much into electronics and building. I’m not talking about video games but he loves building with different materials and also completing circuits to make things move.

TeaspoonChildrensMuseumHighlight is the 3rd floor, or as my kids call it, Water World.

Waterplay is a place where children can experience nearly 20 different new exhibit components that let them pump, move, channel and dam the flow of water, and experience rain, spray and ice.  Have fun with hands-on activities highlighting water texture, flow, reflection and tension, and learn about the principles of buoyancy, hydraulics and conservation.

My kids have learned about teamwork in managing water flow, how water can create power and how to make any adult soaked with little effort. Don’t worry, they have dryers.

You can easily spend 3-4 hours in there without realizing it and no two trips are ever the same. To find out more and join, visit them at pittsburghkids.org

Those are the 3 that we hit up quite frequently. On our list to visit in the area also are the Roberto Clemente Museum, Andy Warhol MuseumWestern Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum and Senator John Heinz History Center.

Do you have suggestions on places to check out?

This is the 1st in a 3 part series on how, after living here for 16 years, I’m discovering Pittsburgh with the help of my little boys.

Discovering Pittsburgh through my kids

July 24th, 2014 No comments

When I write on the topic of cool things I discover about Pittsburgh I’ll always get a few “I can’t believe you’ve never been there before!” comments. Funny coming from people afraid to cross a bridge or go through a tunnel but it’s true.

Teaspoon with Mr. Rogers

Teaspoon with Mr. Rogers

I moved here in my early 20’s for work and, while I knew attractions were around, I had little interest in Pittsburgh besides sports and beer. I was a closet history nerd but my friends at the time were all about the bar scene. Social media wasn’t even a star in Zuck’s eye yet for people socializing online as we know it and I fell into the pattern I had in Erie. You go to the same bar, with the same people and do it all over again the next day. “It’s taco night and $.25 drafts. Why wouldn’t you go there? We always go there!” It’s not crazy to think that I could still be working at Staples and going to Andy’s Pub on Saturday nights for billiards and then midnight bowling. Not that I didn’t enjoy it when I was 21, I really did, it’s just that’s what you do.

My brother and his family would get me out to explore Pittsburgh after my move but the thought of returning never crossed my mind for a lot of these places. I wasn’t programmed to think of finding the best burger, pizza or best anything like we are now. There was no passion to have a “best” place like so many Pittsburghers boast. We didn’t have that local pride or attachment in Erie.

My world was my work for years and it wasn’t until I had kids that I started to look at Pittsburgh, and my life, in a new way. Since last summer we’ve been on a mission to find out what makes Pittsburgh great and this year we went all in with memberships to the zoo, children’s museum and anything with the name Carnegie in it. We’ve been hitting up parks I never knew existed and have taken advantage of whatever cool things I can find on blogs such as The Pittsburgh Mommy Blog and WQED’s Smartparent.

I’m kicking off a small series later today “Discovering Pittsburgh through my Kids”. Maybe it’s with my kids? Eh we’ll see.

We’ll start today with museums, move to libraries on Friday and then parks the following week. Those are 3 categories I feel best sum up why I love Pittsburgh and raising my family here. The people and traditions will come later this year once festival season wraps up. If you have any suggestions please let me know!

Cheers n’at!

 

Dad’s gift to me on his 80th brithday

May 13th, 2014 1 comment

Teaspoon at Dad's grave

The boys and I went to Erie yesterday to celebrate what would have been my father’s 80’s birthday. We spent the day with my mom at her house looking at the upgrades she has made, a trip to the Erie Zoo, dinner at the American Legion and a trip to the cemetery to see dad.

Reading that might not seem like it was anything great but spending time with those guys and my mom was the kind of day I needed to get my mind off of things that have been going on.

The amount I miss my family and friends who are still in Erie has also lead to my wife and I having serious discussions about relocating if the job search doesn’t improve. Not that the market is great up there but maybe we do need a change of scenery. Maybe getting laid off was the push I needed to take that leap.

All of those thoughts I said to my dad as I cleaned up his grave site. I watched the boys pick dandelions and put them on his stone when I stopped for a second and felt a sense of peace. Something or someone telling me it was OK.

The drive home was brutal with the mix of thunderstorms and collection of country/hippie music on the local radio. I was able to stay awake but it put the kids to sleep fast which left me alone to my thoughts for the next 2 hours. I started to think more about dad and what he would tell me if he was still around.

As we made the bend on Parkway North to head into town I saw the Pittsburgh lights in front of me I felt that peace again but this was different. It was like that moment in Field of Dreams when Ray Kinsella was coming home at night with Terrance Mann for the first time. You knew you were coming here for a reason.

You’re not sure yet what it is, but you just know.

Categories: Erie, Family, Fatherhood

thirty eight.

February 21st, 2014 No comments

Doug 18th Birthday

“Unbelievable, that old Biff could have chosen that particular date. It could mean that that point in time inherently contains some sort of cosmic significance. Almost as if it were the temporal junction point for the entire space-time continuum. On the other hand, it could just be an amazing coincidence.” – Doc Brown, BTTF2

Today is the 20th anniversary of my 18th birthday and it didn’t hit me until I found the picture above.  This was taken inside my new ride, a 1981 Monte Carlo, with a fresh hair cut and visions of playing baseball for a living as my future. Reality is that now I’m a stay-at-home dad trying to write a post while a pant-less potty training 3yr old boy is running around shooting his Fart Blaster and my soon-to-be 5yr old is playing Sonic Colors on his tablet next to me on the couch while I watch the news.

This is not what I pictured back then for turning 38 but you know what, I’m not complaining. What I thought was success in 1994 was based on what parents and teachers said it should be. Truth is, success and happiness is unique to everyone. While I can’t wait to be back to work, I have loved every minute I’ve been able to enjoy with these knuckleheads. I’ve had career success with developing award winning web sites, social media campaigns and a podcast which still blows my mind at it’s popularity. Now I’m enjoying it as a father.

Today my wife and kids decorated the house and gave me the Back to the Future trilogy on blu ray and the Back to the Future LEGO kit during breakfast. This afternoon I’m watching the USA v Canada Men’s Hockey game with the kids. Tonight we’ll probably have pizza from my favorite place, pick up a few bomber bottles of my favorite craft beer and finish it with some friends in a video chat.

This is what I call a perfect day.

Categories: Erie, Family, Fatherhood, Friends