A Crash That Shattered a Group of Friends
March 1, 2016 7:58 PM   Subscribe

The Accident. Three decades ago, a fatal car crash shattered a small town and a group of friends.
I reflexively thought, Don’t let it be Jax, and repeated that in my mind, imploring some higher power as my dad drove me beneath the sodium points of light on the highway. In the zero-sum of that moment, it didn’t even occur to me what the inverse meant: Let it be Seger. And how guilty I’d feel for years after about it.
posted by headspace (30 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

The most shocking thing about the article is covered by the #teenparamedic tag.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:46 PM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

But even as we worked ourselves into a bruit,
In what sense is bruit being used here?
posted by unliteral at 9:12 PM on March 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah the teen paramedic part is really strange to me.
posted by JenMarie at 9:40 PM on March 1, 2016

Darien EMS.
posted by mwhybark at 9:43 PM on March 1, 2016

That is a horrific idea. Make kids avoid drugs and alcohol through PTSD! I guess if you're already in a dying counry town that's unable to provide emergency services you might get pretty bizarre, but really?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 9:51 PM on March 1, 2016

The teen-run EMS is kind of disturbing, but maybe there's some potential for good, too. It would be a difficult experiement to start, ethically, but since it's already been done -- I wonder if anyone's surveyed adult past participants to see to what degree they've been negatively affected, and if maybe there's some way to avoid the worst consequences of it while keeping the positive parts.
posted by amtho at 10:00 PM on March 1, 2016

I actually read it (via direct prompts in the linked GQ piece, specifically a glancing reference to "Revolutionary Road" and a more atmospheric relationship to "The Ice Storm") more as about one of the many facets of ruthless privilege. Toughening up tomorrow's investment bankers by early-onset confrontations with mortality so they'll be ready to embrace trauma as a necessary aspect of the American economy. But that's just my read.
posted by mwhybark at 10:01 PM on March 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

"But even as we worked ourselves into a bruit,"
In what sense is bruit being used here?

I noticed that, too. I think he must be mistaking it for another word, or be mistaken about what the word means. I'm not sure which one, though. In the same context, I'd say, "we worked ourselves into a lather."
posted by not that girl at 10:01 PM on March 1, 2016

Make kids avoid drugs and alcohol through PTSD! I guess if you're already in a dying counry town that's unable to provide emergency services you might get pretty bizarre, but really?

Kinda the exact opposite of a dying country town.
"Darien is one of the wealthiest communities in the US; it was listed at #2 on CNN Money's list of "top-earning towns" in the United States as of 2010."

And even if it were a dying country town I disagree. I live in a dying country town and EMS jobs are in high demand, especially among local youth and we don't have such a program. I know a whole lot of EMS workers (used to work next to their dispatch which is also where the classes were), and not one of them is traumatized or damaged by the experience, and they tend to be about 16-19 years old too. Actually, they tend to be amoung the more stable and successful folks I know from around here, and usually pretty dedicated to the community. It's also pretty popular, as getting an EMT or paramedic is one of the few ways to jump from minimum wage to decently paid without an official degree, and they need EMS everywhere around here, so it transfers well.
I know tons of people who'd jump at a program like that, and one who bent the rules to get an early internship type thing. It's actually great for small towns.
posted by neonrev at 10:07 PM on March 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


2. archaic
a. a rumour
b. a loud outcry; clamour

sense two seems closest but i agree it does seem somewhat as though he used a thesaurus on the word "uproar" and felt it was appropriate. perhaps in charity he's replicating a childhood overachiever writing strategy, which would be appropriate to his voice here.
posted by mwhybark at 10:07 PM on March 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

Teen EMS is pretty common where the services are volunteer. I know a lot of people who did this as teens and my university had an entire firehouse of students at one point.
posted by fshgrl at 10:16 PM on March 1, 2016

I should clarify, I have no idea where Paterniti is from. The setting of the story fits Darien perfectly but the link was literally just the first appropriate result for a Google search for something like "teen ems".
posted by mwhybark at 10:31 PM on March 1, 2016

A lot of these nyc bedroom communities have volunteer ambulance corps that are staffed by high school kids. I grew up in such a village (and I remember all the kids with pagers in class).

In fact, I originally missed that the accident happened over 30 years ago and for the first 1/3 of the article I was becoming more convinced that the story was about my home town and a particular incident that happened almost 20 years ago. Eventually the details diverged too much.

The author definitely captured something that I, and a lot of people who grew up in that kind of setting can relate to.
posted by NormieP at 10:56 PM on March 1, 2016

Everything about the trappings of this story screams Westchester County to me, but in any case the community where this takes place is almost definitely not a dying country town.
posted by invitapriore at 11:19 PM on March 1, 2016

In case you didn't read all the way through to the epilogue the crash was 33 years ago (which probably explains why the writer encountered two fatal crashes in his teen years). Any analysis of a teen-paramedic program as a diagnosis of the death of American municipal finances requires that it be in anticipation of said collapse which seems pretty unlikely.
posted by srboisvert at 5:01 AM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I too happen to know a group of young EMS workers in a "dying country town." It's one of the few good jobs. They aren't traumatized by it in their 20s, and they see some shit you would not believe in Methlandia. High esprit de corps. Brave young folks. Some are veterans. They can deal with it.
posted by spitbull at 6:40 AM on March 2, 2016

The teen-run EMS is kind of disturbing, but maybe there's some potential for good, too.

Teenagers are lifeguards all the time.
posted by mhoye at 7:00 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

Whaddya know. Good catch, palindromic.
posted by mwhybark at 7:52 AM on March 2, 2016

Huh. I wonder if Paterniti knew of the NYT article when he anonymized his friends for his piece. And I'm genuinely surprised at the number of teen paramedic services out there; on reflection, it's not a lot different than, say, having EMS-based Explorer posts, or for that matter having combat medics in their late teens. It's just not been a thing at anywhere that I've lived for any length of time AFAIK.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:04 AM on March 2, 2016

My two sons are volunteer firefighters both starting when they were 16. One of them got his EMT certification as a 19 year old. He is now on an ROTC scholarship. The other joined a branch of the military. Some kids are just naturally drawn to serve. They run toward the problem not away. Neither liked to talk about what they saw or did. I learned to ask specific questions like, "Did you need the jaws of life?"

I know Darien well. I have friends there. We live in Westchester County, a place where invitapriore referred to the "trappings". Sure there are a lot of kids of privilege in this town and all over Westchester, but there are also lots of kids in those towns that do not go through life thinking about some sort of birthright.

I am not sure if we have come a long way regarding teen drinking, but I can say that with all three of my children, when in HS, there was always a designated driver. You could usually tell who it was when they were driving the family minivan instead of their own beater car.

There is and was a lot of teenage drinking, but very few accidents in our town. In some towns, the teenage drinking and driving is sort of covered up. They go in front of a judge who gives them a second chance. It never really hits the paper. But, because my boys are VF and EMT, I hear the radio calls. There are few thankfully.

About the article, to be frank, the story was interesting, but, and it may be me, it was hard to read not from a story standpoint but from a how it was written standpoint.
posted by AugustWest at 8:13 AM on March 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a Boston suburb that resembles Darien in many ways and I felt that this story captured the vibe well. In the mid-70s, when I was in high school, a drunk kid crashed his car into a particular tree: an ancient, huge and lovely oak that had been spared twenty years earlier when the highway department widened the road, such that it sat off of the curb surrounded by asphalt. No one died, but the driver was popular and funny, and became fond of tipping his baseball cap so people could see the terrible line of stitches on his scalp. His friends still call him "Monster."

It was impossible to drive by that tree without thinking of Monster's wreck. And then one day another kid going too fast crashed his motorcycle into the same tree, and died. We all wondered if he had lost control by simply looking at the tree... or whether it was a suicide. A year later, another car-full of kids hit the tree and one passenger suffered serious injuries. At that point, the town took down the tree.

Now it's 40 years later and when I drive that road I still look at the tree that isn't there.
posted by carmicha at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2016 [3 favorites]

The article had me recalling the car crashes and other traumas (classmate suicides, early deaths) I experienced in high school, but the phrasing and overall tone of the piece had me skimming more than usual
posted by glaucon at 10:55 AM on March 2, 2016

I am focused on the wrong thing but you change the names for privacy reasons and what you come up with is Flynn, Jax, Seger, and Xavier? It's like the naming in the Star Wars universe, where things need to be just alien enough.
posted by gingerest at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2016 [7 favorites]

"Hung like a tattered kite in the antibacterial blankness of his hospital room, held up by wires and sinkered lines, he awaited his fate."

This line struck me particularly hard.

Thanks for sharing this article. I can't yet articulate how I feel about it all, other than to say that it was extremely moving.
posted by iamkimiam at 1:52 PM on March 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

I guess what seemed weird about the teen EMTs was that it sounded like most of the time they had no adult supervision and/or guidance. And that maybe they shouldn't have been responding alone to horrific accidents. But I can see benefits of an EMT training program.

At any rate, I was hoping for a postscript on what and how Flynn was doing now. Even if the author doesn't talk to him I'm sure he's heard some kind of news, being from a small town and all. It seemed like a missing piece.
posted by JenMarie at 6:31 PM on March 2, 2016

Once some friends and I (at 17/18 years old) were driving around and saw a mutual acquaintance. We all stopped to chat and, as a prank, my friend sprayed a bit of his car's fire extinguisher into the MA's under-dash area. Immediately ensuing in a 15-20 minute high speed chase around the neighborhoods, with in-town speeds of oh, 60-70 mph, and forget the stop signs! We could have been so hurt. It was daytime, and no one had been drinking, but teens and cars, oy vey.
posted by telstar at 6:33 PM on March 2, 2016

Ok, the teen paramedic thing is a nice hook, that's interesting. But the writing was so pretentious. When I was a senior in high school, my friend Chad told me in study hall that he didn't want people to be sad when he died, and that they should party instead. He died in a car accident on New Year's Eve that year. Five years later, my daughter was born on New Year's Eve, so I know about pretentious writing about a friend's death.
posted by Ruki at 6:49 PM on March 2, 2016

Mark Zengo (Jax, according to the NYT article linked above) died recently, age 50; obituary. Strange to think of the teens in that story as adults.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:32 PM on March 2, 2016

I am focused on the wrong thing but you change the names for privacy reasons and what you come up with is Flynn, Jax, Seger, and Xavier? It's like the naming in the Star Wars universe, where things need to be just alien enough.

Perhaps an effort at avoiding any possible hassles with libel; make sure you don't use names that could coincidentally coincide with a real situation elsewhere and imply that someone was drinking when they weren't, for example. Surely the original goal was to provide some anonymity, but it would make sense to avoid creating your own hassles when you do so. The odds of a similar accident involving people actually named Jax and Seger are slimmer than if you use John and Mark.
posted by phearlez at 11:42 AM on March 6, 2016

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