“It’s kind of nice not being the lowest man on the totem pole anymore,” Mike Buxbaum says slowly and distinctly, as if the words are coming with difficulty. Buxbaum is 23. He works at the Vons store near Tierrasanta, bagging groceries. He’s worked there for almost a year. But for those who think he’s a bit too old for that sort of work, there are others who think he’s lucky to be alive.
In September 2009, Buxbaum played drums in a local screamo/post-hardcore band called A City Serene. They were on the first leg of a tour and headed north on Interstate 5 up the Grapevine when a truck going in the opposite direction lost control, hopped the median, and T-boned their converted school bus.
“I’ve heard dozens of stories about what happened,” Buxbaum says, “but I honestly don’t remember. I’ve got nothin’. At times I do get curious, but...” his voice drifts off, “I don’t know.” He would spend the next 40 days in the hospital, 9 of them in a coma. Was anyone else in the band injured?
“Oh, yes, all six of us, but none as serious as me. I have that trophy. One other band member was in a coma like me, but the others weren’t hurt too badly.”
“At first they thought he was dead,” says Buxbaum’s father, Mark. “Emergency crews treated the other band members first. But then, someone noticed movement, and they went to work on Mike.” He confirms in a later conversation that his son remains paralyzed on his right side. “His jaw was broken in six places, and his back was broken in three places.”
On May 31, Mike Buxbaum was given an Eagle Spirit Award by Sharp Hospital, where he spent a good amount of time recovering. “The award was recognizing me for more than just plain recovery; it was for going a little bit beyond that. I volunteer, I stay in touch with other patients who are still in rehab, and now, I’m working.”
What about music?
“I was drumming before [the accident] at a certain level...and then I couldn’t. I want to get back there.” Is he practicing? “Not really.” Buxbaum lives with his family in a small apartment. “There’s noise standards,” he jokes. For now, he uses a practice pad. “And I practice where I learned to play drums, the School of Rock in Golden Hill.”
Buxbaum says at first he had high hopes of returning to the band. “A City Serene eventually went back on the road with a replacement drummer because I was recovering so slowly. They went to Florida to record, and that’s where the breakup started. After that, they all went off in different directions. Some of the members started a new band called Secrets.”
In November, Buxbaum was invited to play a set with a local band called Steam Powered Giraffe in Detroit, but as for gigging, that’s about it.
Mark Buxbaum says it is not likely that his son will ever play drums again, but Mike disagrees. “I’m ready to go now,” he says. “I just need a car and a drum set.”