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I’m still in shock. That’s the only explanation for it. Life is just a little too weird now, and “shock” is the only answer that fits. What am I babbling on about, you may ask. Well, read on McDuff and fie unto he (or she) who first cries “hold.” But I digress…

I drove to Dallas today to pick up my reason for my continued existence on this planet, my daughter. She flies from Amarillo to Dallas. I drive three hours from Shreveport, we meet, I take her back to Louisiana, and we do the Christmas vacation thang. She now has more frequent flier miles than I do. And I get to spend six hours in a beat up Jeep or Van, twice each visit. And lemme tell you, it’s worth it.

So I’m traveling to Dallas today, as I mentioned. I’m armed, and I’ve cut it a little closer than I would like. I prefer being at the airport a good 30 minutes ahead of time, just in case Southwest’s flight arrives early (hey, it happens) or I have problems getting through security (The TSA’s finest once made an insistion that I leave my non-functional, inert, and harmless “bullet with my name on it” key fob in the car, or face confiscation. Sheesh.)

One thing about the drive from Shreveport to Dallas and back. It’s boring as Hell. 180 miles of Interstate highway. I can tick off the little towns between here and there in my head. Makes keeping alert and focused extra-special difficult. But not today. Nope, today when the going got weird, the weird turned Pro. In a big way. And boredom was no longer on the menu.

So I made it to Longview, and made the briefest of pit stops for fuel for both Van and driver. (And I do love Jack in the Box. Seriously.) Lost 10 minutes. A quick calculation (there’s an app for that) and I realized I’d have to drive 75 MPH to make up the lost 10 minutes over the normally two hour drive from Longview to Dallas. Fair enough…75 seems to be within the margin of “we’re not gonna stop you” for most, if not all of the Texas DPS officers.

About half-way from Longview to Tyler, I came upon an 18-wheeler with an odd payload – it looked like a bunker made out of steel plating, complete with a towing yoke, steel door and ladders. Missing were any windows and anything non-utilitarian. Always wondered what those things were for. And I noticed I’d passed this guy before my pit stop.

He was in the RH (slow, outside) lane. I was in the fast lane. (Which is kind of a laugh, because 75 is just about redline country for this barge I call a van.) I look ahead as we come over a rise. THIS is where it gets weird. I mean, MAJOR weird…like David “Eraserhead” Lynch, Spielberg’s special effects got nuthin’ on me weird.

I-20 is a marvel of 1960s engineering. Two smooth, cement lanes in either direction, plus an asphalt shoulder. I note this because I noticed it, along with a bazillion other things as time slowed to a crawl. Here’s a kind of play-by-play of the thoughts that popped into my head at that moment:

  1. Nice road…two, well-maintained cement lanes, with an asphalt shoulder…make it easy and safe to pull off if you have car trouble.
  2. There’s a car ahead of the 18-wheeler in the right lane.
  3. The car ahead of the 18-wheeler has his emergency flashers on.
  4. The car ahead of the 18-wheeler is stopped in the right lane. Not the shoulder.
  5. That doesn’t make any sense. Nobody parks a car on the Interstate. Nobody stops. That’s what the nice asphalt shoulder is for.
  6. I wonder how the truck is going to avoid hitting the car? After all, I’m doing around 75 and overheading him in the passing lane. He’s got to be doing at least 70 MPH.
  7. I wonder if he sees the car or recognizes that it’s not moving.
  8. He’s going to hit that car. There’s no other way around it. If he pulls onto the shoulder at 70 MPH, he’ll roll his truck.
  9. I wonder what it will be like to see a 70 MPH impact from about five feet away.
  10. Oh, there’s the impact. The car is exploding. The rear window shattered, and is spraying my car with glass.
  11. The sedan looks like an accordion now. It’s trunk is a part of the hood.
  12. I hope the truck driver is okay. I didn’t see anybody in the car as I passed. Good thing, because they’d be dead if they were.
  13. I wonder if the driver either saw the car stopped ahead of him, or had time to process what he saw…I don’t think he ever so much as tapped his brakes.
  14. That’s weird. I see an ambulance coming full-tilt boogie towards us. How did they get here that fast.
  15. The truck is stopping. I think the driver is okay. The emergency vehicle is there. Nothing I can do, and I don’t think they are going to need or want a statement from me.

For the sake of making the math easier for me, let’s simplify the problem. Say a car that is going 70 MPH hits something stopped in front of him. 70MPH = 4,435,200 inches or 369,600 feet per hour. We’ll divide this number by 60 to get the number of feet per minute – 6,160, and again by 60 to get the feet per second: 102.67 feet/second.


I didn’t get the make/model of the truck’s new hood ornament (it was dark blue…I’d make a lousy witness). But assuming that it was similar to a Toyota Corolla, it was probably (pre-impact) about 173 inches long. That means it took about 1.5 seconds for the car to go from full-length to crushed flatter than a pancake.

If you were given to expletive deleteds in such a situation, That’s not enough time to even get the “OH…” out before you’re hamburger. And the truck didn’t hit the breaks.

Okay. Thanks for indulging me. It was cathartic, writing this. I’m still weirded out over the whole thing. I used to think that Peckinpah-esque slo-mo sequences in action movies were completely unrealistic. Nope. That’s probably the only realistic part of those movies. Time really does slow down to a crawl in those situations. I am lucky to be alive.

But what in the Wide, Wide World of Sports does this have to do with TTAG, guns, self defense, or shooting? Well, lemme tell you. It ought to make you stop and think, “how would I react – or even better WOULD I react – if confronted with an experience so unexpected and beyond the realm of reason, that my brain simply couldn’t process the information in a timely fashion?”

And that, my friends, is the $64,000,000 question.

Let’s put this in more personal, immediate terms. Let’s say you are well-trained, well-armed, and situationally-aware. You’re in a space you consider to be “home turf.” You know the exits. You have weapons at the ready. You have security in place. And then, something unexpected happens. You are suddenly and savagely confronted with not one, not two, but three bad guys, already inside your safe zone, and they are armed and ready to play. To quote the late, great Dennis Hopper, What do you do now? What do you do now?!

Frankly, I think in a lot of these cases, it’s NOT (as is so widely speculated) the “deer in the headlights” syndrome that causes people to freeze and just stand there while some threat bears down on them. Nope. Instead, it’s the “This can NOT be happening” thing, where you lose precious seconds while your brain tries to wrap your head around something that, just moments before, seemed impossible, incredible, or otherwise unbelievable.

In marketing speak it would be “admiring the problem.” Only in a life-or-death situation, you don’t friggin’ have TIME to admire the problem. You don’t necessarily have time to solve it either. And what may make the difference in your future status between “late victim” and fortunate survivor” is an ability to process information and act accordingly – essentially to set aside that part of your brain that wants to marvel at what in the Hell is happening, and move on to that part that is the Man of Action.

Of course, it’s just not that flippin’ easy, is it. On the one hand, it’s easy to SAY “do that,” and quite another to be able to DO it when the time comes. If it comes.

So let’s say you devise some kind of training regimin that takes this brain-freeze thing into account. You train. You practice. You’re ready. Then something that looks very much like an emergency happens in the middle of the night. You don’t admire the problem. You immediately move on to putting your action plan in gear. Only, this time, it was a false alarm.

It wasn’t home invaders breaking in. It was your kid coming home unexpectedly from college, and he forgot his key. Didn’t wanna wake you, so he jimmied a window, but knocked something over on his way in.

The guy who was standing there going “WTF?” is now chewing his kid a new one. The guy who acted instead of reacting is calling 911 because he’s just realized that guy lying in a pool of his own blood is his child.

Life’s a bitch, huh?

I honestly don’t know what the answer is here. If I had to guess, I’d say more people die from admiring the problem or allowing their brains to go all horizontal hold on them, than the ones that train to overcome this and act decisively. But I’d just be guessing. Still, this kind of thing scares the ever-lovin’ crap outta me, because even contemplating all the ramifications of this is maddening to the point of insanity. It’s like getting into a grudge match between two philosophers – Free Will! Predestination! Free Will! Predestination! They can’t BOTH be right…choose one! What is the answer?

For me, I think it came down to the way the truck driver acted/reacted. He had maybe 1/100th of a second to look at his options, weigh the variables, and choose a course of action, and he ended up choosing one that was in direct opposition to his instinct (which would have been to stand on the brakes). I think he drove through the other car because he realized it was the only rational choice. He didn’t put the car there. Emergency braking with the load he carried would have been suicide for him, and endanger the car beside him (that would be ME) and the ones behind him.

All sorts of people have to make split-second decisions based on available information, logic, reasoning, intuition, and a dozen other factors. Guys like sergeants, field commanders, and people confronted with carjackers, home invaders, muggers, rapists, et cetera. Short of knowing in my gut that some people can instinctively skip the incredulous step, don’t pass “GO” and go right to the action plan, I don’t honestly know how to get there for the rest of you.

I can tell you that when I’ve been in similar situations before, I was able to sort through my options, come up with what I thought was the best choice, act on it, and let the chips fall where they may. Does this put me in the “Survivor’s Club,” or have I just been lucky? Is there a “survivor’s mindset,” the antithesis of the “victim’s mindset”? I dunno. But I know I’m glad to be alive. And wherever that trucker is tonight, I hope and pray he’s well, that nobody was seriously injured, and that he somehow knows he did the right thing.

And now, I’m gonna get some sleep. I’ve had enough excitement for one day.

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  1. Sorry to be pedantic, but you used your feet/second rate on the Corolla’s length in inches, multiplying the resultant time by a factor of 12. That car was essentially crushed in 0.14-ish seconds (obviously there’s some spring action in there adding to this number, but it’s not enough to be relevant)

    • As you can probably tell, math is not my strong suit. Then again, neither is spelling. Fortunately, I’ve read where poor spelling is not indicative of a lack of intelligence. No word on the math skills link. Now if they’d just come up with a “Math Checker” like they did a “Spell Checker”…

      But yeah, the math (mine, or your more accurate version) is bloody scary. When they say “in the blink of an eye,” it’s NOT an exaggeration. But I’m still weirded-out by my memory of the impact, and the slow-motion explosion. It’s almost like your brain is a DVR that automagically goes into slow-motion playback mode (that would be the adrenalin, over-cranking your senses). I won’t be so quick to make fun of the hyper-realistic, slow-motion special effects next time I’m watching a movie. Nothing unrealistic about that, time-wise.

  2. “The guy who acted instead of reacting is calling 911 because he’s just realized that guy lying in a pool of his own blood is his child.”

    Good argument for ignoring the existence of Castle Doctrine and making the personal decision never to fire until there is a clear, identifiable threat (i.e., weapon/opportunity/intent)?

    • I wouldn’t ignore the existence of the Castle Doctrine. It’s a tool, just like anything else. The trick is to use it intelligently. I wouldn’t blame my Skilsaw if I cut my leg off…it’s the guy holding it that’s to blame. But you are 100% right – shoot first/ask questions later works fine in the movies, but not so much when your family and their lives are at stake.

      My real question is “how can I get past the ‘incredulous’ reaction, avoid wasting precious milliseconds, and make a go/no-go decision on defending myself/my family. And that one’s gonna bear a lot more thought.

  3. “[H]ow can I . . . avoid wasting precious milliseconds.”

    Even if you are a robot, your mind will need time to process what your eyes see and your ears hear. Training can shorten the amount of time but cannot eliminate the time lag. No amount of training can completely overcome biology or physics. But that’s good. As long as you can maintain your ability to think, you’re winning. It’s when you panic and don’t know whether you’re on foot or horseback that you lose.

    Ramon Castillo recently took on three murderous bastards in CQC. Mrs. Castillo was unharmed, at least physically. Mr. Castillo was wounded but will survive. The robbers were DOA. It’s unlikely that Mr. Castillo had any training, but he did have the innate ability to keep his head, read and react. Don’t think I’m dissing training because I’m not. If Castillo had been trained, he’d probably be a freakin’ ninja.

  4. I once awoke to find an intruder standing at the foot of my bed. My first reaction was to grab the gun I kept at the bedside. I started screaming at the same time. The intruder turned and ran. I followed him, but he got down the stairs and out the front door before I could get a clear shot at him. I was determined I wasn’t going to endanger the neighbors by shooting hastily.

    Immediately after that I had a burglar alarm installed. In every house I’ve lived in since then I’ve had either a dog or a burglar alarm. I don’t want someone getting that close to me again without my being aware of them.

    I agree, “admiring the problem” is a waste of time. Planning ahead, thinking through various scenarios, can help you get through the moment of surprise.

  5. Training does teach you to observe, analyze and react.

    My closest near death experience happened at the SHOT Show a few years back and it had nothing to do with guns or violence–imagine that!

    Because I have trained myself to be aware of my surroundings, I noticed when walking to one of the outside display tents that the roof (wood structure) of one of the vendor booths (20×20) was waving in the wind. As I watched, within 2 seconds, it rose up and blew in my direction.

    I yelled “watch out”, ran in a 90 degree angle to its travel and pushed my two oblivious friends out of the way. It landed 3 feet from where we were previously standing. Fortunately no one was hurt. No one else ran or warned anyone, nor did anything meaningful. Possibly everyone was in condition white and saw nothing.

    My reaction was due to my defensive training. I saw, I acted.

  6. I was falling asleep on the couch the other day watching a show about the brain. I just happened to open my eyes on part talking about fight or flight response. Evidently, under stress, there is a walnut sized part of your lower brain called the “Amygdala” which processes information twice as fast as the upper brain, or the “Cortex”. This is what leads to the phenomenon of Tachypsychia or time distortion. In short, the Amygdala is the “DO” portion of your brain, which processes your established emergency programming/training, and the Cortex is the “Think” portion that figures out what to do when you don’t know what to do.

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