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Left Coast/Right Coast: The Darwin Awards and other human “entertainment”

While the loss of a person is painful to their friends and family, those who have earned a Darwin Award occupy a special place, which is worthy of “sharing.”
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on various subjects. Photo credit: Richard Ying.

By Mike Gold, a retired entrepreneur "living the dream in the Pacific Northwest."

Many of you will have heard of the Darwin Awards. If you haven’t, they are posthumously awarded to people who have, as they say, improved the gene pool by offing themselves. While the loss of a person is painful to their friends and family, those who have earned a Darwin Award occupy a special place, which is worthy of “sharing.”

I’m certain we have all done things that were dangerous. Perhaps even by the time we realized how dangerous a situation we put ourselves in, it was too late to stop and retrench.

As for myself, I can recall one time I was changing the oil in one of our cars. My practice was to jack up the car with the factory supplied jack. It is clearly marked in the owner’s manual that you should not work under the car when the car is on this jack. So I would add a second pedestal made up of wooden blocks – which I would stack up until they were just lower than the height of the car when on the jack. Then I would lower the car until both the jack and the wooden blocks were equally supporting the car’s weight.

Great plan until the factory jack started to slip and the wooden block pile also began to topple over. Fortunately I was not under the car yet. I recall thinking that had the car fallen on me I would have suffocated from being unable to breathe.

From then on, whenever I wanted to work under a car I used jack stands. There have been numerous examples of people being pinned and suffocated when the car collapsed on top of them. In my opinion they qualified for a Darwin Award.

Some examples of “candidates” for the Darwin Award:

1. The Lawn Chair Balloon Caper (from the “At Risk Survivor” category)

A guy in Southern California, inflated a bunch of balloons with helium, tied them to a lawn chair until the buoyancy of the balloons was able to lift him (while seated on the chair) off the ground. He carried an air rifle with him so (in his words), “I could shoot out some balloons so I could control the ability to descend back to earth.”

What could possibly go wrong with a plan like that! Well, the plan worked so well that he found himself at approx. 16,000 feet. Some passing airline pilots reported him to their FAA on-ground contacts. Imagine getting a radio transmission saying, “There is a guy in a lawn chair under some balloons carrying a rifle at 15,000 feet.”

Apparently the guy successfully shot out enough balloons that the “rig” descended to earth and he made it out alive. Too bad.

2. The RV Caper (not an actual Darwin award candidate, but should be)

A guy purchased a large 32-foot recreational vehicle. As he was cruising along the interstate at 60 mph, he decided to make himself something to eat. So he put the RV on cruise control, got out from behind the wheel (he was alone) and wandered into the back kitchen area to make himself a sandwich. Surprise! – the RV crashed. The moron owner sued the RV company claiming that the owner’s manual said nothing about one’s “inability” to do this maneuver. While this story is apocryphal (in other words, an unban legend), it is entertaining and apparently, today the Owner’s Manual in a RV specifically says not to do this. Duh!

3. The Cannonball Baker Sea-To-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash (not an actual Darwin Award winner, but should be)

This original bit of madness was developed by Brock Yates – a writer for Car and Driver Magazine. The idea was to drive from the Red Ball Garage (on the west side of Manhattan) to the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach California. The only rule is/was the car arriving in the shortest elapsed time wins.

Dan Gurney (winner of the 1967 24 hours of Le Mans) won the second run in a Ferrari Daytona averaging over 80 mph for the entire trip (note: this includes pit stops and fuel stops). Dan himself put it best, "At no time did we exceed 175 mph." My favorite understatement of all time.

Note that none of these first three examples actually offed themselves, so they do not qualify to win an award. This last example, however, did.

4. The Rocket Powered Car Caper (another “Urban Legend” category winner)

Number 1 on my all time favorite Darwin Award winners was a guy who welded a rocket engine to the top of an old American Car and “lit it off” in the desert. The remains of the car and driver were found about 125 feet high in the face of a cliff approximately 1.5 miles from the point of ignition.

This reminds me of a famous saying by the Tappet Brothers, the hosts of the popular radio show Car Talk.” The Magliozzi brothers will often describe some knuckleheaded stunt on their show when the perpetrator will say the last words while still alive, “Hey guys watch this.”

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