To Keithv, Sheeba, and Jack: My condolences and prayers for your loss.
I haven’t lost any close relatives to auto accidents. But I did lose two good friends. In a way, “Passage” brought them back.
In 1988, I was working as a news producer and reporter for a small TV station in Victorville, California. That year, a young man named Jeff became the mayor. Jeff was extraordinary, right out of Central Casting – brilliant, hard-working, funny, and charismatic. He and his wife Debbie were the most strikingly good-looking couple one could imagine.
His election as mayor was nothing short of miraculous. Jeff was a Democrat. Victorville was, and is, a Republican bastion. (To understand what a tectonic plate-shifting event this was – try to imagine a Republican becoming mayor of Berkeley.) He immediately set about challenging the existing power structure. He didn’t always win, and he made some mistakes. But he gave it his best, and even managed to win a few victories. Although reporters and politicians usually have coolly professional relationships, Jeff and I became pretty good friends.
As is the case in other small towns, politics in Victorville is a part-time job. When he wasn’t being the mayor, Jeff was the principal of a local “continuation school” – that is, a school for troubled kids. One might expect these kids to hate all authority figures, especially their principal. But almost without exception, his kids adored him. God knows how many young lives he turned around.
Within a short time, local Democrats were seriously eyeing Jeff as someone who could break the Republican stranglehold in San Bernardino County. There was talk of State Assembly, State Senate, or even Congress.
On a Monday morning in February of 1989, my then-girlfriend called and broke the news. Over the weekend, Jeff was killed in a car accident. He and Debbie were headed west on a two-lane road. Two men were driving east. One was trying to pass, the other refused to give way. The cars collided. Jeff was killed instantly. Debbie died four days later. Their deaths were the most difficult news stories I ever had to report.
When I first heard “Passage,” I realized I hadn’t thought of Jeff and Debbie for a long time. But I also discovered that after fifteen years, I still miss them. I can still see the warmth of Debbie’s smile. I still remember the bemused exasperation in Jeff’s face, as he told me about his opponents’ latest move. I’m still angry with the other two men.
And I still can’t help but wonder what might have been.