Maybe I'm an angel—or maybe one was riding on my shoulders.
In the late 1960's, while attending college at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, MI, I drove school bus for the Mt Pleasant Public Schools to cover my student expenses.
My run from Rosebush, MI, back to Mt. Pleasant was the longest run in the school district, and, therefore, I had to be out at the pick-up location well before the school superintendent arose from his bed to determine if the roads were sufficiently bad enough to close school. If he said "SNOW DAY!" on the public a.m. radio, then I would deadhead back empty; but if he said "School is open!"—I would pick up the kids along the route and haul them in to the high school. The unfortunate thing for me was that I lived in Mt. Pleasant and therefore had to drive empty to Rosebush every morning to start the process.
It was a weird early morning, as I recall, in December 1969 or January 1970. It was pitch dark, with sunrise at least an hour away. There had been a light freezing rain/sleet storm all during the night and everything was covered with an eighth of an inch of ice. But then there was also a fog—a fog so thick I could hardly see past the front of the bus. The roads had yet to see a snow plow, nor would the County Road Commission's plows get to the back roads for hours. But "duty called," and I cleaned the ice from the windshield and started the bus north. The headlights just shone off a white, impenetrable, mist-filled blanket, seemingly 6 feet in front of me as I pointed the bus up the road.
Rosebush is about 10 miles north of my home (where I kept the bus). Normally, on the morning run I would travel east and then north on the main Michigan state highways to my pick-up point. But this morning—in the worst weather imaginable—I decided to take one of the back roads north. This was a gravel road with a high crown and deep ditches on either side. It was slick as greased glass. Why I took it I do not rationally know, but I had this weird feeling that I had to go this way. After about 6 miles of hellacious driving I got gun-shy about driving this back road and took a lateral gravel road east to regain the main highway (and also my sanity). The lateral route to the main highway (which was 3 miles to the east) was another ice-covered trek, again constructed of gravel with side ditches. These ditches were 10 to 12 feet deep and full of rain water, ice, and snow, not to mention a summer's worth of dry brush and dead cat-tails standing 3 feet high in the bottom. They would be a real chore for the County Road Commission to clear come spring.
About 2 miles east along the trek lies the Ann Arbor Railroad crossing. Michigan law states that a school bus must stop short of the railroad tracks, open the door, look both ways, and proceed if clear. Michigan, in the Saginaw Valley, is flat as a billiard table and open farm land. Normally, I would be able to see for miles that there was no train coming and with an empty bus would just blast across to make up time. But it was pitch dark with fog that you could cut with a knife, so I dutifully stopped and opened the door.
There in the ditch was a car on its side. Its headlights were very dim (it had been there a while). I activated the emergency warning flashers on the bus and jumped out to see what was going on. I found a woman, unconscious but alive, in the car. The blood running from her face had partially coagulated. I couldn't get her out of the car; plus, my Boy Scout training was crying out to me "Don't move her—she may have a broken back." Again Boy Scout training—STOP THE BLEEDING! I did a quick patch job on her head with bandages from the school bus first-aid kit. PREVENT SHOCK—I threw my coat and the ratty old blanket every school bus driver keeps in a box for sick kids over her in an effort to somehow keep her warm. Then I got back on the bus and beat it to the first farmhouse to call an ambulance. Those were the days before radios or cell phones. I pounded on the door of the farmhouse. The residents were apprehensive to open the door to a stranger at this early hour, but they did. After I told them the story, the wife called the police and ambulance. I grabbed more of the offered blankets and returned to the railroad crossing and sat with the unconscious woman until the ambulance came. Then, in a wail of sirens and flashing lights, she was gone.
I then remounted my faithful school bus and continued north to Rosebush School—my pick-up point—and turned on the AM radio. The superintendent's voice came on loud and clear: "SNOW DAY—stay home!" Now in daylight, I drove home, and ironically, since it was a snow day, I would get no pay for the trip that officially never happened.
Later that day, I called the hospital. The woman had been treated and released, apparently with only a bad headache to show for the ordeal. And NO! They would not disclose her name—hospital policy, etc. I never found out who she was.
Years later, I tried to reenact the route from memory. I knew the back road going north was Bradley Street/Baumer Road, but I never could locate the east-west side road I took to the railroad tracks. I drove down each of the possible five roads to their intersecting railroad crossings, but I never found the one that matched my mind's eye vision of the deep ditch with the car smashed against the culvert.
Sometimes, angels also walk the back roads.