The Tow Truck, the Driver, and the Truth
Last week, my car acted up, and I had it towed to my mechanic. The tow-truck driver who helped me out was my Buddha. He helped me see things as they were and to be a part of them and to breathe.
He was a dark-haired, wiry young man the color of cinnamon—the tan of white people who are relentlessly in the summer sun. He wore a pink T-shirt with something about the power of healing printed on the back. He wore an empty holster for a sidearm. After he backed his flatbed up to the back end of my waiting disabled VW, he asked me if I were renting for the week. I said no, this was my parents’ place and I was down for the summer. You teach? he asked. Yes, I said. In Connecticut. Why in Connecticut when you have all of this. Here. He was not asking.
Of course, they won’t pay you nothing, but look where you are.
When he was 16, he told his parents he would be out when he was 18. They didn’t believe him, but there he was two years later driving this truck around the island and living in Holly Ridge. He didn’t want to do anything else but what he was doing. He invited me to wait in the air-conditioned cab while he loaded up my little silver car. I climbed in while he thudded, bumped, and lashed my little car onto his truck. The country music was not deafening, but it was several decibels beyond inviting. Something about honey you might want to close your eyes for this—over and over again. I didn’t close my eyes, but I stopped watching through the rearview.
I’ll bring you back if you need me to, he said after he remarked about the trucks for sale along the way and how he’d like to stop there and look but he’s always getting a call to the next job and anyway he had two Jeeps and did I know what Jeep stood for? Just empty every pocket and a few unsavory other things. He was busy because the other guy was sleeping in and he was happy for the money and a lot of times they have to winch out guys who get their big pick-ups stuck on the beach. Spin your tires just a little and you’ll get yourself a ticket—and the cops won’t pull you out. There are good cops and bad cops around here, but none of them will pull you out.
A call came through and he took it and it was a guy who had gotten his truck stuck in the sand at the first public access location. He took the job and then called back to ask how much. $150. He hung up and laughed and said this could go any number of ways and I’ll get you home but we have this one job to do. He reached under the console and grabbed his sidearm and slipped it into the holster. And, oh, here’s the rest of your keys. I got them when I went inside with your paperwork, he said. I need constant supervision, I said. It’s OK. We gotta get this guy out of the sand. Usually they cuss me out when I tell them how much. And sometimes they’re just happy to pay because they feel like idiots getting stuck. But you don’t know how it will go with these guys.
The beach. You go on that beach at night and you see everyone all wearing the same T-shirts and shorts for the picture and you think, you got the DUI last night, and you’re the one they called the overdose on and you…The police, they just wait for them to come off the beach and they have them open their trunks and arrest them right there for illegal possession of firearms and meths. You’d never guess it happens here. Every night.
He’s talking so that he forgot to turn left back to the beach and is on his way to Holly Ridge. I must need a nap, he says. I forgot to turn. And then he turns around. At the beach, the guy who needs to be winched out smiles at me and says he just wanted to have a nice lunch at the beach before he went back to work. I’m sorry about that, I say, and I nod to my driver and say thanks.
You leavin’? he asks. I’m going right there, I say, and I nod to that place a quarter mile down the road where I will turn left to where I have all of this. Here. And I go home and call his boss and AAA and tell them what a great job he did, though it isn’t until much later that I realized he dismembered my right rearview mirror. I don’t really care, though I will fix it.
I loved this kid and how much he loved where he was and what he did and how he talked and how the beach was not lost on him.
I hate the helplessness I feel when my car breaks down. But that damned check-engine light reminds me I am in this world as well as of it. And it’s a good place.