Drive In The Dark

The meeting started at 615am.

Bond Wang
5 min readJan 30, 2024
Photo by FRANCESCO TOMMASINI on Unsplash

Early spring of 2023, I was on the way back home after visiting a friend in Redlands. The highway entry was closed for road work. Google Map led me to a country road. It felt so familiar. But I couldn’t pick up a clear memory. Then I saw a herd of wild donkeys rambling along the road.

The Reche Canyon.

Between 2019 and 2020, for almost one year, I set my clock at 430am every Friday morning. I left my Riverside home at 450am, drove on Highway 215 for 30 minutes or so to the city of Grand Terrance, picked up Jimmy Ford, folded his walker into the trunk, and drove again for 30 minutes to another city Moreno Valley. If everything went well, we would arrive at the meeting room in a little church around 550am.

The meeting started at 615am.

In the last 30 minutes, Jimmy and I were on the Reche Canyon Road in the Box Spring Mountains. They look over the three Inland Empire cities, Riverside, Grand Terrance, and Moreno Valley. I drove through them all on Friday morning. I couldn’t see much outside. The wiggly road in front of me and the heavy darkness beyond gave me chills. I would be nuts to drive alone.

Jimmy had driven on the road for decades.

Now he’d lost one eye, battling Alzheimer’s disease. He could barely remember my name but he knew every inch of the road of the Reche Canyon. Even though we were on Google Map, he kept telling me to make the turn before the GPS. Then between the navigations, he told me all his stories on this road.

Jimmy joined the Air Force and became a pilot navigator. When he served in the base in Vietnam, he happened to attend a Toastmasters meeting. He loved it. Coming back to South California in 1970, the first thing he did was look for a Toastmasters club. Then he found this club called “The Dawn Busters”, which was chartered six months earlier. They met at 615am on Friday.

Jimmy stayed in the club ever since. The Reche Canyon Road was built many years later. It was to serve the medical workers commuting between the cities of Loma Linda and Moreno Valley. Jimmy drove on it every Friday morning to the Dawn Busters meetings. It was the wild west, Jimmy told me, he saw many fatal accidents in the early years. He lost one eye to a flying stone, survived multiple accidents, and hit the wild donkeys countless times.

Photo by Gioia Maurizi on Unsplash

The Reche Canyon is more famous for the wild donkeys than its road condition. They are called the burros. These creatures have been wandering the mountains since the Gold Rush. There were times when Jimmy suddenly stopped talking and shouted, “Woohoo, the burro~~donkeys!” But it was dark outside, I couldn’t see a soul. It made me more nervous and grab the steering wheel more tightly.

After the meeting, the club members would go to a Mexican restaurant called Jose’s to have breakfast. We called it “the meeting after meeting”, which often lasted longer than the official meeting. Then I would send Jimmy back. The Google Map would guide me to a whole different route. So I never drove in the Reche Canyon in the daylight.

Until this day in early spring of 2023.

The road narrow and dusty. The screaming cars on the opposite just a few inches away. The high cliffs at every turn, The wild donkeys near and far. What the hell?! I drove on this road for one year? In total darkness?

I must be nuts.

Maybe it was because of the darkness. I could see nothing beyond the 100 feet of the road before me. Darkness conceals hazards. Plus, Jimmy sat next to me, talking non-stop. I had no time to think about fear. His symptoms were mild at that time. He drifted on and off between his emotions. While driving in the daylight now, I suddenly realized Jimmy’s constant chatter back then was pure sanity. He made me feel easy driving in the dark. He even told me there was a nudist village along the road. “There, up the hill,” he would point outside. Nothing but darkness. Then he would say, “I went there once. Nothing beautiful there.”

Since the doctor told him to stop driving, Jimmy’s family drove him to the meeting for some time. Then they stopped. He used to attend another club meeting. “They had no people to pick me up.” The Dawn Busters kept picking him up for many years. I was the last one in the relay. It was not totally a volunteerism. I was exempted from paying $10 per month for the club dues. Plus, I just moved to Riverside, no friends, no job. I wanted to improve my language and public speaking skills. The people in the club were fantastic. I thought it would generate a sense of responsibility so I wouldn’t miss the meetings. And I just drove in the dark. There was nothing to fear.

Until there was a bigger fear in the daytime.

Early 2020, the pandemic hit. The club turned to Zoom meetings. Soon I stopped my membership. Jimmy never showed up either. I met him once since our Friday commute stopped. It was in 2022 at Down Busters Club’s 50th Anniversary party — postponed by the pandemic. Jimmy was in a wheelchair. The symptoms had got worse. He was the club’s honored member, surrounded by his family and the club members. People came to him to take pictures. I was a former member now. I came to him. “Hi. Jimmy!” He looked at me. Clearly, he had no recollection at all.

A few weeks after driving on the Reche Canyon Road in daylight, I received an email. Jimmy passed away. My memories became a mix, shifting between pitch darkness and bright daylight. A lot of moments suddenly had new sensitivity. What would the Friday morning commute end up with if there were no pandemic? Would I drive him again knowing what the Reche Canyon looks like in the daytime? Why does driving in the dark seem to impose less fear? But once seeing it in the daylight why I am scared to death?

I am grateful, though, for I barely missed one single meeting for one year. It laid all the foundations for my public speaking.



Bond Wang

Forget injuries, never forget kindness. Hey, I write about life, culture, and daydreams. Hope I open a window for you, as well as for myself.