To help Dobama Theatre celebrate its 50th anniversary and its first season in its new home, we asked readers to send in essays about 10 minutes in Cleveland that changed their lives. We received a wide range of entries, including some that adhered closely to the guidelines and some that took liberties but still made for good reads. All three winning entries will be read by actors following an upcoming performance of 10 More Minutes from Cleveland, by local playwright Eric Coble (who also helped choose the winners). Here's one:
FIRE AND ICE
By George Radak
It was raining. Not your rock and roll thunderstorm, just a cool, steady downpour, something to knock the leaves off the trees on a quiet October night. The year was 1983 and I was sitting at the bar of a strip club on Clark off West 44th next to the firehouse. I was working for the RTA back then and had been sent over to the west side to see if the weather would break so we could perform some needed track work. Standard operating procedure was to wait one hour, then call the boss for his instructions. In those prehistoric, pre-cell phone days this involved using the nearest land line. Mine just happened to be in a place where girls did acrobatics they’d never learned in gym class. After the third call my boss said, “Forget it. Go home.” I liked that idea because three beers was my limit and I was already on number seven.
Driving east on Clark I stopped at West 25th (silently cursing the city for demolishing the Clark bridge), I turned south to Harvard then east again through Newburgh Heights and on to 77 South. I had just crested the hill that led down to Independence when … OK, here comes my ten minutes.
I saw the semi first. It was parked in the middle lane with its four-way flashers glaring. Adjacent to the big rig was a pickup truck that had pulled off the highway. Directly in front of me were three figures in my lane facing south. The object of their attention was a late ’70s model Chevy Malibu that was about a hundred yards further downhill. The Chevy was in pieces, the largest of which was on fire.
I got out and approached the trio. Not a scratch on ’em. That didn’t jibe with the scene in front of me so I asked the obvious question: “Where’s the driver of that car?” Maybe they were in shock because they just looked at each other but didn’t say a word. I figured I had my answer so I started running towards the car to find out for myself.
They say conscience doth make cowards of us all. If by conscience Shakespeare meant thinking, he got that right because just when I was within fifty feet of my objective my mind dredged up this fun fact: One gallon of gasoline is equal to the explosive power of five sticks of dynamite. I stopped dead. Fear had me shivering and the rain didn’t help. I didn’t stand there long. I had a moment of clarity. Someone was hurt and needed help and there damned sure weren’t going to get it from the Greek chorus I’d left behind. I started for the car again but this time I walked.