Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Unbearable Lightness of Tow Truck Driving

Good morning (or whenever you happen to be reading this).

It's time for another glimpse into the world of "Saturday" the book.  In this episode, we're on page 26.  It's getting to be late afternoon (probably somewhere around 4:00, but it's always a little hard to tell what time it is on Saturday).  India's had a fairly run of the mill day: finding a dog named Porkchop, meeting a traveling circus, falling into a storm drain, etc.  Just usual weekendy stuff.

And now India's headed back in the direction of home, though there will probably be another odd detour before she gets there:

This looks like kind of a lonely panel.  India's shadow in the fading afternoon light is long and solitary.  The day is coming to an end, which has its own kind of built in melancholy if you love Saturdays.  And India is by herself again (Porkchop notwithstanding), with the empty sidewalk stretching out in front of her.

One of the leitmotifs of this book is how lonely it feels to be stuck.  Have you ever had your car break down on the side of the highway?  You didn't feel alone moments before when you were driving faster miles an hour.  But now that you're standing next to your gasping chariot, it feels like you're stranded on a desert island.  The cars flash by (you don't realize how fast they're going until you're not) and suddenly it occurs to you that every single one of those cars is driven by a stranger.

Years ago, I was driving with a friend when my car broke down on the side of the highway.  One half of the drive shaft literally fell off and started dragging on the asphalt.  It was just starting to get dark and we were a ways from home.  There were no houses or businesses anywhere nearby.  We stood by the car, not sure what to do (this was before cell phones and we had both forgotten our telegraphs that day).  I started to worry that we'd have to walk for miles along the highway in the dark to find help.  But, as luck would have it, a police officer stopped and radioed for a tow truck driver.  The police officer drove away, assuming the tow truck driver would show.

We waited.  The wait for help to arrive seems infinitely longer than any other kind of waiting.

It was now fully dark and I wondered if the tow truck would ever show.  And then, on the horizon, our tow truck appeared.  Home and safety suddenly felt much, much closer.  The truck pulled up next to us and out stepped Jerry, a big fat guy who immediately started yelling at the passing cars.  Cars whose drivers could not possibly hear him, as they were going 60 mph.  Home, which had been several miles away, was starting to feel further away than ever.  We exchanged a few pleasantries with Jerry about the upcoming polo season, Milan Kundera, and the rather disappointing wines that year.  By which I mean Jerry told a couple of absolute strangers how much he hated his job and his dispatch.

With that, Jerry bent to his work.  In doing so, he exposed his crack like a cartoon plumber.  My friend immediately produced a pencil and held it above Jerry, pantomiming the infamous pencil drop joke.  Being fluent in pantomime, I gestured back that this guy was our ride back to civilization and we probably shouldn't alienate him.

Our car hooked up, we all climbed into the cab of Jerry's truck for some paperwork and olfactory adventure.  Jerry popped a little soothing Megadeath into the cassette player of his dash while we filled out some forms.  After a little more career advice ("Don't ever be a tow truck driver; it's such a pain in the @$$."), Jerry kicked us out of the cab and drove away.

And we walked back home along the highway in the dark.

Help doesn't always come in the form you expect or even the form you want.  But it's usually not as far away as you think.  So the next time you're stuck somewhere or somehow and feeling small and isolated, just remember that the universe has already radioed in and Jerry is on his way.

Also, in case you were wondering, I took Jerry's advice and decided not to become a tow truck driver (so far).  So it's kind of like Jerry helped me out twice.

Thanks, Jerry.


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