I was still living in State College and working for the Pennsylvania Mirror, the Altoona Mirror’s failed attempt to go head to head with the Centre Daily Times, so I’d guess this must have been sometime in the spring or summer of 1972.
My job was basically that of a glorified delivery boy, although there was no glory in it, and the Mirror being a morning newspaper, I started work at midnight just as the paper was going to press. I, along with the half dozen or so other drivers, would grab our bundled papers as they came off the line, load them into our car or truck, and drive off to deliver them to the various newsstands, grocery stores, and other outlets that carried the Mirror. We even delivered single copies to folks who lived in the countryside.
We’d get back to the newspaper’s building around 5:00 AM or so, maybe find an excuse to hang around for a bit to get some extra time (the pay being not much above minimum wage), and punch out around 5:30 or 6:00.
Usually Brian Galas and I carpooled, as we lived just a few blocks from each other in State College. Brian was a fascinating guy, probably the smartest fellow I’ve ever known. He had been a geology student, working on an advanced degree, when suddenly he became disillusioned with the field and the people working in it. The breaking point came when he realized that his professor had a paperweight on his desk and couldn’t even name the type of mineral it was made of. Now Brian was an aspiring artist with a wife and two daughters. Actually, Brian probably deserves a whole blog post or two devoted to him.
Anyway, on this day I was driving Brian home, but we had to deliver a single paper that one of the other drivers had missed.
The recipient lived in Park Forest Village, which was north of State College just off 322, so that’s where I headed. Now 322 was a four lane highway in that area, although because it was a fairly well developed section, the speed limit was probably about 45 mph. Since Park Forest Village was on the left, I was driving in the left hand lane and my eyes were on the street signs as I was watching where to turn off.
And that’s when I heard Brian say, “Hey…hey…hey…” His voice was calm but I knew something was wrong. In any case it was just enough to divert my attention away from where to turn off to look straight ahead at the car that was barreling directly towards us in our lane! I swerved just in time and it missed us.
I pulled over to collect myself, and Brian said he had tried not to shout so as not to put me into panic mode. In any case I think he did exactly the right thing, and as I thought about it, I realized that if I had been alone, I probably would not have seen that oncoming car in time to react. And no, I have no idea why that car was driving in the wrong lane.
So we delivered the paper, and I proceeded to take Brian to his house, which was on Westerly Parkway. This meant retracing our route by going south on 322 until it turned into Atherton Street when we got to State College.
Now once again the turnoff was going to be on the left, and having driven Brian home dozens of times in the past, I would normally have anticipated the left turn by getting into the left hand lane. On this day for some reason I did not. Why I did not I cannot say. Was I perhaps being just a little bit extra cautious because of the earlier incident? I do not know. All I can say for certain is that as I approached the turnoff to Westerly Parkway, I remained in the right hand lane.
As one drives south on Atherton Street towards Westerly Parkway, there is a hill, so drivers really cannot see oncoming traffic. And on that day as we went up that hill, just as we reached the crest, a huge tractor-trailer truck came barreling over the mound in our left hand lane! Had I been in the left lane as I nearly always was in the past, there would have been no time to react; we’d’ve been goners.
So there you have it. Twice in the space of less than half an hour, two drivers traveling in the wrong lane nearly plowed into the car that I was driving. And I lived to tell the tale.