On the road again

The road took his life, but Curtis Hutcherson is taking it back the Smart way

As told to Casey Lessard

My first memory of driving was growing up on the tobacco farms of Tillsonburg, driving the trucks back and forth. It was great. Gas was 45 or 50 cents a gallon then. No problem.
My first car was a 1963 Valiant with a little slant-6, 174 Enduro. Wow! It was beautiful. Back then, everybody else was driving the Mustangs, the Camaros, all the hot cars. This was 1966, 67 or 68. I drove the Valiant for a couple of years. I bought it for $100 and sold it for $250.
Then I bought a Rideau 500, a big Ford that sleeps six. Four hundred horses. The whole shebang. It was gorgeous. Then one night, I totaled it. I had gone to a party and was driving home drunk and high. It just rolled off the road. I don’t even remember. Woke up the next morning in the hospital.
I was 19 in 1971. I was doing everything back then. I was working as a rock and roll star with a great bunch of boys. I was not very good at school, but I was there. I had the honour of playing on the Glendale Griffins basketball team and we had some of the best basketball players in Canada: Bruce Colthard, Rick Jacobs, Barry Atkinson – 7’2” and a quarter-inch back then, and we were in high school. We were the best in Ontario.

A sudden stop
One day, I jumped on a motorcycle at the football field. It was a 350 Honda bore out to a 405 Hellcat. Ooh! That was a fast bike. I went “wah-waaah” down the football field and let her go. The next thing I knew, a tree jumped in front of me.
I don’t remember much at all, thank goodness. I had many, many problems. My eye popped out. My nose was pushed to the side of my face. My teeth were all punched in. My jaw was smashed in. My collarbone was broken. My lungs were caved a bit. I had a blood clot tumour. It was just a mess.
I spent many months in hospitals and a year or two in work programs: the CMHA, the Watch program. Later on I got all these other life situations, like diabetes type II, epilepsy, sarcoidosis, trepanning, black lung, manic, manic aggressive. With all of these problems, they took my license away for good.
I lost everything. I lost my life. I lost my friends. Before, it was Hi, Curtis! After I came home two years later, they would cross the street because they didn’t want to get near me. They thought I was a mental case because I had the brain operation and all these other things. So I went off on my own. Then I turned to alcohol and drugs, and that’s where I went after that. I ended up in all these bizarre places. I lived in Coronation Park in the trees. I slept there for a summer. Nobody would even come close to me.
I ran from my mother and my father and my sister and brother. I went from job to job and hitchhiked. I had a little laundry bag on my back and just smiled as I went. I went from Port Rowan to Otterville to Mount Elgin to Ingersoll to London, and over to Vancouver. I went to Algonquin College and Fanshawe College twice.
In between I worked. I would just wake up and say, let’s go somewhere else. I got $20; Wow! Cool! Here we go. Back then, the jobs were there. I would do anything and smile. Sleep under a tree or under a truck. I did that for years and years.
Then I hit 40, and the government said, That’s enough. We don’t know where you are. So they put me on a disability pension.
I got a little cabin at 241 Simcoe in London and lived there. It was great. A little 800 square foot apartment. I had a blast.
Then my mom and dad moved to Grand Bend and a year later, in 1996, my father passed away. I moved here to be with my mother.
My father was a man I loved very much and without him, I didn’t know if there was going to be anything. I went to the rubber room (at the mental hospital), where they put rubber on the walls and you run into them. I had lost it. I lost three people in a row: my grandfather, grandmother and father. They were my heroes. My mother and sister and brother helped me through.

A kick-start
I bought this house (in Grand Bend), and it was a beautiful disaster. It took about a month to paint and redo everything. The bathroom had to be completely revamped. It’s a whole different feeling for me now. I’m secure here and I feel wanted. I’m placed. I have roots here now. I’m 55 now, and I work a little, but just for my mom and friends.
Then last year (November, 2006), they said, Oh! You can drive again, and they gave me my license back.
My mother has a Mercedes-Benz, so we drove to Mercedes to get her car worked on. We walked into the showroom and there was the Smart car. Wow! I walked over to it and said, My God, I could put this in my pocket and pick it up and carry it out. The salesman came over and the next thing I know he’s opening the door. The door is huge – it’s three quarters the size of the car. I sat in the car and there was extra room for me, and I’m 6’2”. It was amazing. He gave me a manual to read and I came back a month later and ordered an automobile. I said, this is what I would like and he took my arm and showed me three that had just come in from Hamilton that night. Would you like the one in the middle? I broke down in tears and cried, and I bought it.
I’ve been 35 years without wheels. Now I have my own little wheels, and once you get in the automobile, you forget the size of it. It’s adorable. And it’s a very reasonable car. It’s a three-cylinder diesel and gets 75 miles to a gallon. I have a five-gallon gas tank. I get 390 miles per tank. I fill it up for $25 now, and I’m good for two to three weeks. Everything is 15 miles away anyway.
I go where I want to. I go to London, Exeter, Goderich, Sarnia. Then I cruise just to go up and down the beaches.
I still feel honoured to drive because the world has finally said, You can come back to life again. I have a date tonight with a young woman and we’re going to the Red Rooster in Forest. I’m still trying to catch up because I’ve been that far without. For 35 years, I’ve lived on are a bicycle and my feet, so I just stayed at home. Plus I have all these medical issues. For example, (because of the diabetes), tonight I might have a diet pop or water or coffee. But I don’t care because I’m there and I’m enjoying it.
It was an emotional rescue for me. First I got my license, and then the insurance, and I jump in mother’s car. Wow! Wow! After 35 years, I’m in the driver’s seat and mother’s in the passenger’s seat. Mother hit me and I said, What? What’s wrong? She said, You’re driving now. I said, Thank you. And away we went.