Hat’s Off

I’d lie down in traffic for my Cardinal cap. Or would I?

May 2022

Reading time min

Illustration of a man falling off a bike trying to reach for a Stanford cap

Illustration: Klaas Verplancke

We had only wanted to grab a few beers downtown. I began to build speed as I cycled ahead of two friends into the afternoon breeze. The wind picked up, and I felt my cap—my new favorite Stanford hat—start to fly off. In my panicked grab to save it, I lost control of the handlebar. It twisted and I hurtled toward the asphalt, landing on top of my once-reliable bike. 

I’ve stayed a loyal Stanford fan since my undergraduate days, glorying in the remarkable success of our teams over the years. I’ve been a Buck/Cardinal Club member for decades and the proud owner of various pieces of Stanford-insignia clothing, hats included.

And every year, I’ve driven from San Diego to campus to spend a football weekend renewing my connection to all things Stanford. Tailgating with classmates in the Chuck Taylor Grove, watching a football game, and riding that same old bike all around the Farm. I’ve marveled at the growth of the place and stopped in familiar places, letting nostalgia wash over me. 

A few years back, at one of those games, I realized that my Stanford hat had simply worn out. I rode up to the Stanford Bookstore to buy a new one but found most of the current styles garish or ill-fitting. Finally, one caught my eye. Although brand new, the baseball cap appeared to have been in the sun for years, the Cardinal fabric faded almost to pink. The Stanford logo, with the tree in the middle, was small and discreet. It was perfect—and it fit.

I managed to crawl to the curb, but I knew I had really hurt myself.

The day of the crash, I had rejected my bike helmet, with its broken visor, in favor of that Stanford hat. We were planning to ride over the same local streets that I had ridden for 40 years, so I didn’t think a helmet was necessary.  

Big mistake. Though I was lucky to avoid a head injury, when I collapsed onto the bike and pavement, the brake lever gashed my calf. The force of the blow left me breathless. I managed to crawl to the curb, but I knew I had really hurt myself. My buddies rode up, asked whether I was OK, then rescued my bike and hat, which had blown into the traffic lane.

Dazed and in a bit of shock, I insisted that we continue. My friend straightened the now-wobbly bike into rideable form, and we rode on to get those beers. I could go to urgent care later.

After three months and multiple doctor visits, the leg wound finally closed. But my shoulder, which took the brunt of the fall, continued to give me problems. The surgeon showed me the MRI and explained that the rotator cuff was torn so severely that normal procedures wouldn’t work. He would attempt to repair it using donated skin from a cadaver.

I was in a sling for months. Looking back, should I have just let the hat go? Was I like Othello, who “loved not wisely, but too well”? Nah. I’ll be fine—as long as that cadaver wasn’t a USC or Cal guy.

Wayne Raffesberger, ’73, is a writer in San Diego. His memoir, Thank God I Got Polio (Waterside Productions), was published last November. This July will mark his 10th year of competing in the Hemingway Look-Alike Contest in Key West, Fla.

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