On an Unglamorous Man

Donald Turnupseed.

Look at that name.

It’s about as unglamorous as you can get. There’s nothing noteworthy about it. In fact, it’s the antithesis of interesting. Think of a great name, a name that catches your attention: Rock Hudson. Cary Grant. Ingrid Bergman. James Dean. Marilyn Monroe.

Donald Turnupseed is the Not-That-Name.

And the man himself was equally unspectacular in a way. Oh, he served in the Navy after World War 2. Attended Cal-Poly and got a degree. Inherited his dad’s electrical contractor business, continue its success, and died at age 65 of lung cancer after two marriages and some kids and grandkids. A normal life. A quiet life.  “You could never get close to Donald,” one co-worker said.

Donald Turupseed. Sheesh.

Even his car was unglamorous. As a younger man, Donald (not Don) drove a simple 1950 Ford Tudor. As you can guess, it was a two-door sedan (Ford wasn’t known for its branding ingenuity). The only interesting thing about Donald’s Ford was that it had a two-toned paint job. How daring!

The only reason we’re talking about Donald here is that car, in fact. It ended up being the most interesting thing about the man, the thing that would dominate his life, even when he didn’t care to discuss the car and his role in history.

You see, Donald was on his way home to Tulare, California, from class at Cal-Poly at the age of 23 when, in his Ford, he was traveling eastbound down Route 466. At a stop sign, Donald intended to turn left to get on Route 41. Like the cautious driver he was, Donald looked left, then right, then left again and pulled out.

What Donald didn’t see in the poor light of the gloaming of that September evening in 1955 was the low, silver car coming at high speed from his right on Route 41. In the only interview he gave about the incident the next day, Donald said that the color of the car and the color of the highway were almost identical. He never saw it coming.

After the accident, Donald walked away with a bloody nose and nothing else. The Ford absorbed most of the impact while the lighter, lower sports car that hit him broadside as he made the turn was almost demolished. He was not charged with any failure to yield or any infraction of the driving laws. The authorities took into account that the other car, the sports car, was traveling at a high rate of speed when the collision occurred. Donald was so unfazed by the incident afterward that the State Police told him to simply hitchhike home.

Yes, Donald Turnupseed survived the wreck with only some scratches.

James Dean didn’t.

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