The Dead Man’s Quarter


This is a story about one of my last big adventures in Portland.

I got a job in California, and, dreading the commute, I bought my first new car, a 2012 Jetta, my second Jetta and my fourth Volkswagen. It smelled so new and looked so pretty.

I also had a photoshoot that week.  We had a lot of fun in the graveyard, and took lots of pictures.

At one point, the photographer found a raised grave that he decided that he would like for me to lie down on, since it was thirty five degrees out and wet. I balked a little, but he showed me some mud on his knee to indicate that he was also “getting in the muck” and working hard. The pictures we got are now some of my favorites, because they look like 4AD record covers.


As I got up, I picked up a quarter from the edge of the grave. I said “I’m taking this, because I’ve earned it!” and I put it in my pocket. It was a 1981 quarter, and the face and back both had a sanded quality, from being rained on for a long time. I went on with my day, and later told the mortician’s son about the quarter. He was very suspicious about my decision, saying, “That quarter’s not yours, and you’d better put it back!” I laughed at him, and we went to dinner.

The next night, I totaled my new Jetta on my 6th day of ownership. Yes, the road was icy, and yes, the car in front of me had stopped short, but none of those are good reasons for driving my car into the back that car. I blacked out briefly on impact, and came around to an ODOT worker telling me that I should get out of the car in case it exploded. Here is my car, after the fact.  I had made it into a large paperweight.


On the first day, I was embarrassed and appalled with myself for having smashed it, but on the second day, I thought about how lucky I was. I came out of the accident with a small airbag burn on my wrist. The other driver was also OK. He was driving a 1979 Cutlass, so his body damage amounted to having the bumper pushed into the body.  I considered not telling anyone what I had done, but I thought it might raise questions when I just wordlessly reverted to driving my 1996 Jetta.

That week, I drove to Seattle for a gig, and took my best Pete with me. I showed him the dead man’s quarter and he recoiled, and said, “Why did you bring that thing on a road trip?

By the time I got home from Seattle, I had started to have second thoughts about the Dead Man’s Quarter, so I asked the mortician’s son to escort me after dark to return it. I hated to admit to myself that in the dark and the rolling fog, it was a little spooky in my lovely little cemetery. I put the quarter right back where I found it, and haven’t totalled a car since, so- that worked!



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