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Risk-taking changes as the daredevil ages

What makes a daredevil jump cars with a motorcycle or plunge down Niagara Falls in a barrel? 

Money and fame are obvious answers, but there must be less shallow reasons. As a professed fraidy cat, I haven't a clue what they might be.

Daredevils — neither rich nor famous — live among us. They ignore road closed signs just to see if their vehicle can cross to the other side and complain loudly when they are ticketed for doing so. Daredevils remove the safety device that shuts a lawnmower's engine off when someone isn't in the seat; they cut the third prong off an electrical cord so it can be used in a two-pronged plug-in; and they rip the tag off mattresses just because the government forbids it.

Nick, who has earned a daredevil reputation, is building an airplane and is close to getting a pilot's license. He's worked on the plane in a make-shift shop for more than a year.

Orville and Wilbur Wright would be proud, but his fraidy cat friend suggests that now is a good time to increase his insurance coverage so that his wife might live comfortably after he's gone. That sounds insensitive, but it is practical advice.


Nick insists that flying is much safer than driving. However, the safety statistics probably don't include home-built planes.

Nick's track record isn't particularly reassuring. He considers frequent engine oil changes a recommendation, not a requirement. He has, in the past, bragged that the oil wasn't changed in the family's Dodge Neon for 80,000 miles. He also drove the car on doughnut tires just to see how long the temporary tires would last. He made it 8,000 bumpy miles before cords started showing.

The same maintenance approach with an airplane is obviously ill-advised.

Ego can make us take risks

Nick insists that I will be among the first to enjoy a ride with him at the controls. It's not going to happen, no matter the amount of mockery that will follow. The time when I would do just about anything to avoid being called chicken are long gone. But it wasn't always so.

An elderly farmer who knew more about life, love and how the world works than I will ever forget had a problem with a mean herd bull. Neither he nor his wife could safely get the bull from pasture to pen so the animal could be shipped to market.

He asked if I could help. He assured me that I was fast enough to avoid the bull's charge. Come what may, he insisted, the bull would be no match for my impressive speed.

After the bull was safely penned, his owner shook his head in disbelief.


"I thought for sure that bull was gonna get you,'' he said. "I sure wouldn't have done it if I was you.''

Ego made me do it. If, indeed, he thought I was the fastest guy in the township, I wasn't about to turn chicken and run away from a death-defying challenge.

Today's risky behavior

I still like to take risks sometimes. The greatest risk at present is sneaking a pound of butter into the house. Kathy has banned its use in our house because she insists it's bad for my diabetes and cholesterol. However, margarine on sweet corn and new potatoes doesn't taste near as sweet. The butter is, at present, carefully hidden in the crisper beneath limp lettuce and soft carrots that have stayed too long.

I have yet to figure out just how to get the butter from crisper to plate. But all things are possible in a daredevil's world if the dream is big enough.

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