I cruise at 79 miles an hour. That way, should it happen, I can honestly look the cop in the eye and tell him I was driving 70-something. But that day when I was driving home, my car started to stall as though it were low on gas. I looked down to see my gas-gauge reading a quarter tank. Well, crap. My mind immediately returned to a lesson I learned while working for MINI Cooper. I was experiencing a computer controlled vehicle shut-down. My car's speed evenly decreased, I turned on my hazards, pulled toward the shoulder of the road and came to a halt. My engine eventually stopped running and I sat there in silence. It was a pleasant Sunday, a lovely day for a break down.
But now I find myself sitting and thinking through what do I do next. Okay, I was stranded somewhere South of Cadillac, MI with absolutely no idea where. Why hadn’t I paid more attention to what I just passed? I need to be much more aware of… Oh, I have GPS on my phone. Never mind. I called USAA, told them my exact location and they let me know a tow-truck was thirty minutes away. For kicks, I called a few friends who were driving home behind me. They stopped. We chatted. I sent them on their way.
The red tow-truck from Reed City showed up. The driver - a man in a camo hat, Reed City Towing hoodie, and multicolored reflective sunglasses - got out and immediately started hooking up my car. No questions. No concerns. Very simple. I asked his name. Gary. I told him I was David, but can’t imagine a reason for him to remember. There were no other words spoken until I attempted to get in the passenger side of the truck. “Broke”, he said, as he came around to shut me in from the outside. He gave the door a few heavy pulls ensuring each of us it wouldn't open. I tried to buckle my seat belt, but only heard, "Broke" from the driver's seat. It was a brief introduction, but I realized the next ninety minutes would most likely be quite awkward. I decided to ask Gary, the unique waterfowl he appeared to be, every question I could think of.
You from Michigan? “Yep,” he said with a mouth full of chaw. “Grew up in Reed City. Spent my whole life there”. I asked if he had a family. “Yep. Got a wife and a two-year old son”. I asked the kid’s name, “Hunter. The only name his mother and I could agree on”. I told him I have a baby on the way. It was supposed to arrive in about a week or so. He smirked. Of course, I’m merely guessing, but based on the unique direction his mouth moved as he reached down to pick up his twenty-ounce Mountain Dew bottle, untwist the top, and spit into it, he seemed pleased to hear I was a verile male interested in females.
This guy needs to start telling stories or else nothing would be uttered until he unhitched my car.
I continued, “How did you meet your wife?” He replied with a local bar somewhere near Reed City. A mutual friend had introduced them to each other. (I have to add here, the level of curse words used were mind-boggling, and I was only starting out with basic family questions.) Eventually, after a colorful description of their first interaction he learned she liked him. He questioned his friend who clued him in, “What type of like?” His friend said, “She liiiiikes you.” He went to her work and bluntly asked if she liked him. She said, “Yep”. He asked if she wanted to go on a date and she said, “Yep”. He replied, “Doing anything tomorrow?” Then he turned to me as said, “And that was that. Then a few dates later I knocked her up and we got married after the baby was born.”
You should have seen his head swivel toward me when I told him I had done the exact same thing. He asked the next question showing actual interest, “What’s your girl's name?”
We were quiet for a few minutes processing our unique similarity.
He had a hook attached to the brim of his hat so I asked if he liked to fish. “No. Well, I don’t fish too much.” He paused and I was shocked to sense small tears growing behind his opaque sunglasses. “This hook is for my father-in-law. I never actually met him. I really wish I could have met him, but I didn’t. He loved to fish. So I wear it in honor of him, you know, out of respect.” I apologized and asked if his father-in-law was an expert in catching a certain type of fish or there was a special place he loved to go. Gary said, “I don’t know. We never met.”
Gary felt awkward enough to start in on another curse-laden story. “I do like to hunt though,” he said, “I had a city friend who came out to visit. Me and my buddies took him out early in the morning. Like four or five in the morning. Figurin’ we’d drag this giant field, who knows, push a deer or a buck in his direction. So I took off with a beer in my hand and I swear, we ****** weren’t out there 20 ******** minutes and BANG! It was so dark, I couldn’t see *******! I thought he ended up ***** shooting himself, so I went rushing over to him. He said he saw something rustling and thought he saw ******** antlers on the ******** top of the beast. So I suppose he guessed where to put the bulls eye and pulled the ******** trigger. ******** amateur! So we all went out into the field and, sure ******* enough, there was a pool of blood. He had managed to hit a buck in the first twenty minutes of hunting. ******** beginner’s luck. So we tracked it and I forced him to gut it. He would cut a bit, then ******* puke. ******* cut then ******* puke. Finally, I stepped in to finish the ********* job. He thought hunting was simple after that because he ****** killed a buck in the first ***** twenty minutes. I told him he could never come hunting with us again.”
His iPhone rang. It was Whitney. He talked in hushed semi-embarrassed tones. “Yep… Yep… Nope. Getting close to GR, then I’ll be back. Dinner? Subway's fine with me. Alright.… Love you, too.” He paused for a few seconds and said, “Whitney’s such a worrier. You see, I’m a fireman in Reed City. I grew up always wanting to be a fire man. I knew everyone in town so it wasn’t too hard to get involved. But Whitney was always worried about me whenever there was a call. But I told her that any of my firemen buddies would rush in after me and I’d do the same for them. I told her straight-up. I’d die for any of them and they’d die for me. But before I go into a fire, I give Hunter a little toy firetruck and he won’t let go of it until I get back. He wants to be a fireman when he gets bigger.”
I asked about his big tow-truck. He said it was a 1997 International wrecker. I asked if it was like a Toyota? “Naw, it’s an International, that’s a brand, they’ve got all sorts of trucks.” I asked how many miles. “Well, this says 247,000, but it’s probably closer to ******* half million. The counter stopped working a ways back.” I told him I was impressed it was still running. But Gary returned with more stories of even older trucks with incredible amounts of mileage. He explained he drives just about everywhere in Michigan, but admitted he hated driving through the big-city. It made him nervous. In a form of confession, he leaned over to me and said, “You see, I have some road anger issues. And racist issues. Those don’t treat me too well in the big-city”.
I asked if he and Whitney ever went back to the bar where they met. “Yeah, we been back a few times.This one time she went to the bar to get a drink. I walked up behind her, smiled and said, ‘Well hello, you mind if I take you home tonight?’. She looked at me, grinned, and told me I wasn’t her type. Well, later that night in the parking lot, I locked the door on her when she was trying to get in. She got ********* pissed! I told her the door was locked since I wasn’t her ******** type, so maybe she should just walk home! But I was just joking. I opened the door and she did end up going home with me.”
We passed Fifth-Third Ball field on 131-South and I saw Gary’s hands tighten around the wheel. I didn’t know if this was related to road-anger issues, racist issues, or maybe just big-city nerves settling in. I was curious, so I asked him, “Do you regret anything that happened? Like with Whitney or Hunter?”
Gary paused a few seconds thinking it through. “Naw, I don’t know how any of this shit happened. I really don’t know but I wouldn’t change it for the whole goddamned world. I love my son. He means everything to me.”
I asked if he had any fatherly advice for me? He leaned back like an old sage and said, “Have patience. When the kid screws up, you gotta keep showing him love. Hunter would come up crying and hug me and call me daddy. Man - I hate the kid when he does that. He always knows how to get me. But I tell him it’s alright and I hug him back and I tell him I love him.”
We ended our trip unhooking my car at the local mechanic. He offered me a ride home, but I told him I'd walk the final five minutes. I told him thanks for coming to get me on this lovely Sunday afternoon. I felt silly, but I gave him my bottle of Gewürztraminer - a white wine I picked up from Brys Estates. I told him to chill it in the fridge and enjoy it with Whitney.
On my way home I couldn’t stop thinking about how Gary and I really weren’t that different. He lives ninety minutes from me. To the world we would be neighbors. Gary had painted himself in a certain light and I realized I do the exact same. I don’t seem to have any road anger or racial issues, but I've got my own problems. I did notice how he never took off his sunglasses. He hid behind them, just like I do. And how his machismo was all talk. He loved his son. He loved his wife. He loved the father-in-law he had never met. He loved protecting his Reed City by serving on the fire department.
I was curious what would happen if we ever ended up sitting at the same bar. Initially, we would have eyed each other making stereotypical assumptions. But it’s amazing what a forced ninety-minutes in a near broken down ’97 International can create. Maybe now he would introduce me to his friends, and say I was a good guy. And that, despite the teal and hot pink color of my shoes, I wasn’t gay cause I had a baby on the way. And I would tell my friends that despite Gary’s camo hat with a giant fish hook on the brim, and his chaw-filled Mountain Dew bottle, he was a good guy, too.
But more than anything, I hope I can say, with as much conviction as Gary, that I knocked a girl up and fell in love with her. That I have no idea how all of this shit happened, but I wouldn't change it for the world. And now Lori and I are choosing to move forward, raising our surprise child with absolutely no regrets.