Death Data

Sometimes, while driving, I’ll imagine I’m involved in a horrific, life-ending traffic accident. Fear not: there are no women or children involved, and the only one who dies is me.

In Illinois, we (I shouldn’t say “we” because I don’t live there anymore) average around 1000 traffic deaths per year. The Department of Transportation advertises this data on electronic highway signs.

Depending on how often you drive on the highway, your relationship to these signs may vary:

  • If you drive on the highway a few times a year, you might be thinking: La la la, life is great!
  • If you drive on the highway a few times a month, you might be thinking: I should be more careful.
  • If you drive on the highway every day, you might be thinking: Will I be next?

To deal with this ongoing fear of screeching tires, crushed metal, and shattered bones, some commuters might turn this “Death Data” into a game.

“Forget Fantasy Football!” says So and So at So and So Company. “I got twenty bucks that ten more people will perish by Wednesday!”

Now: I am NOT condoning So and So’s behavior; however, I am merely pointing out that life can be pretty tragic at times and reducing the level of tragedy associated with these traffic deaths by partaking in some office gambling might not be a bad idea. For one, you can transform your overwhelming sadness over the death of some stranger into an adrenaline rush, and for two, you might end up with some extra cash in your pocket.

In the summer of 2014, I left Illinois to attend graduate school at the University of Idaho. The town I was living in wasn’t near any major highways, and I rarely drove, which meant I was forced to imagine other ways to die.

die mind

Lucky for me, school shootings have been growing in popularity. Since 2013, there have been nearly 300 school shootings across America. Not all of these school shootings resulted in death, as some of the “shootings” just involved a gun being fired on school premises with no reported injuries, which is kind of like almost being killed in a car accident, where you swerve out of the way or slam on the brakes just before impact.

death call

The good thing about school shootings is that they keep students vigilant. While sitting in class, boys and girls are not only learning but also planning their escape route in case some fragile human in need of love decides to let loose.

school shooting

Considering that I studied Creative Writing, which is a field of study that attracts large numbers of fragile humans in need of love (myself included), and that the state I attended graduate school in is shaped like a gun, some of you might be wondering how I, in fact, made it out of Idaho alive.

idaho gun

I now live in Reno, Nevada, where I drive on the highway a few times a month and no longer attend school. One might think I’m back to imagining myself dying in a horrific, life-ending traffic accident, but there are no electronic highway signs advertising the number of traffic deaths like there were in Illinois. Therefore, I’ve been watching the news for inspiration.


The “trending” way to die seems to be death by nuclear war. According to the data, nine countries possess around 15,000 nuclear weapons. The U.S. and Russia have the largest nuclear arsenal with a variety of these weapons aimed at various targets ready to be launched within minutes.

nuke codes

When I think about the reality of a nuclear attack, my first thought is: It‘s most likely not going to happen in the U.S. This may be naive of me to think, but if I were to partake in some office gambling with my fellow co-workers in an effort to reduce the level of absurdity that comes with living on this planet, I would definitely put twenty bucks on any country – besides the U.S. – to be the first to be welcomed with such catastrophic destruction.

Andrew JacksonNow: I should mention that I don’t typically win bets, so for all I know, those of us who live in the U.S. could go BOOM tomorrow.

usa boom

Some people, who have money and land, will retreat to their underground bomb shelters to protect themselves from the BOOM. Depending on how long it takes for the radiation levels to drop, these people may be stuck inside their bomb shelters for quite some time, which, if they run out of food and don’t have the heart to kill and eat grandma, can lead to starvation.

weight loss

I, on the other hand, will be dead as soon as the BOOM goes BOOM. I’m not too thrilled about dying at the hands of the supposed “leaders” who run this world, but death by BOOM seems like an appealing way to go. I would much rather have my entire being erased from existence in one quick BOOM than starve to death or bleed out from a gunshot wound or suffocate on my crushed esophagus while my ribs are poking out through my chest.


There is the possibility that I could somehow survive the BOOM only to discover that I have grown an extra arm and my skin’s melting off my face! Or maybe my physical features will remain intact, and the radiation from the blast will give me superhero-like powers that allow me to rule the world.

rule world

Whatever happens, we (I shouldn’t say “we” because radioactive superheroes live forever) will all be dead soon enough. As a kid, I often imagined dying peacefully in my sleep many, many years in the future, but now that I’m older and have seen the “Death Data,” my mind can no longer fathom such a peaceful demise. All any of us can really hope for is that our final day on this planet isn’t nearly as tragic as some and none of us die in a nuclear war or school shooting or traffic accident, as the last thing I would want for myself – or anyone, especially my readers – is to become some number, which is advertised on some electronic highway sign.


jay pic


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