It was February 2, 1972 and I was heading home to Las Vegas, driving my Dodge van at night through the dark, winding canyon of the Virgin River Gorge. It was late, almost midnight, and I was coming home from college in Utah. Snow was on the ground, eerily illuminated by a full moon that would appear suddenly in the narrow strip of night sky above me, framed briefly by towering black rock walls on either side. Then, as the road turned sharply, the moon would disappear just as suddenly, and pitch me into a primordial darkness, save my dancing headlights.

I was driving on Interstate 15, which runs through the canyon and crosses the Virgin River more than once. The Virgin River Gorge section on Interstate 15 is one of the most expensive parts of interstate highway every constructed.

At the time, I didn’t know that, nor would I have cared. I was desperately trying to pick up a radio signal (almost impossible to do in the canyon) to learn my fate. I’d lock on to an AM station for a minute or two, then lose it, then pick it up again (more static than sound), then lose it for good. I’d curse, pound my fist on the dashboard, curse some more. You see, I was 19 years old, the Vietnam War was still raging, and I was eligible to be drafted.

I was born in 1953, and the draft lottery for my birth year was held this very day. The results were supposed to be announced on select radio/TV stations. Three hundred and sixty-six blue plastic capsules containing birth dates were placed in a large glass container and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men 18 to 26 years of age.

At 19, I wasn’t especially well informed or political. I didn’t know how I felt about the war or what I would do if I were drafted. Part of me suspected I might like military life. I was athletic and full of vinegar. March 20 miles with a 50-pound pack? Bring it on. Learn how to shoot guns and drive tanks? I’m all in. Kill people? Hmm. Maybe not so cool.

At one point the canyon opened up, the moonlight poured in, and I pinned down a decent radio signal. It was a music station, and the DJ was playing “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues. Listening to that song while driving through that canyon at night was almost a mystical experience. For a few long minutes I was transported, not worrying about dodging bullets in a rice paddy thousands of miles from home.

I didn’t learn my fate until the next day at home, when I woke up late and my mother told me. My draft lottery number was 302. I wouldn’t be drafted unless World War III broke out. Relieved, I fell back asleep.

Turns out, no new draft orders were issued after 1972. Dodged a bullet after all.

Meetinghouse is a community storytelling project hosted by the Maine Sunday Telegram.

Read more stories from Maine at www.centralmaine.com/meetinghouse

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