Tuesday, July 25, 2006

On Drunk Drivers and Gratitude

Last night about 11:30 I was driving home by myself from a late showing of Strangers with Candy, thinking to myself about how it was not as inspired as the TV series of the same name. I suspected the movie might be lackluster, but I like Amy Sedaris and I couldn’t resist seeing Stephen Colbert (thankfully he was worth the price of the ticket). John opted not to go with me because he had to get up early and hadn’t slept that well the night before.

As I approached the intersection of 10th and College wondering how Sedaris maintained that ridiculously large overbite throughout the entire film I noticed a rusty LTD coming from the opposite direction. It gently swerved into my lane. At first I thought the driver decided to make a last minute left turn onto 10th so I slowed down, but once it got into my lane it just stayed there heading straight toward me. I honked but it kept coming and finally I had just enough time to jerk the wheel to the right, avoiding what was probably a drunk driver but not the very large curb I was forced onto that popped my tire and crushed my rim.

Rattled I got out to look at the damage. The car wasn’t going anywhere. A guy waiting at the bus stop on the corner asked me if I had a spare, which I did. As I opened the trunk a pick-up pulled next to me. A wiry guy got out, probably in his 40s, buzz-cut and wearing a wife-beater. I could hear him repeating in a strong Kentucky accent a series of numbers and letters. I finally figured out he was saying the license plate number of the car that ran me off the road. I grabbed a pen and paper and wrote it down.

“I saw it all and drove back to give it to you. Here’s my name and phone number.” He started telling me about how his car had been totaled recently by someone with no insurance. “You need a phone or anything?” Actually I did. I’d left mine at home, of course. “Yeah, I need to call my…” I tried to think of a word that wouldn’t get me jumped on a dark Midwestern street at midnight. “The guy I live with,” was all my scrambled brain could come up with. I felt guilty that fear had gotten the best of me. He let me borrow his phone, but even as I dialed I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to wake John up. If he has trouble sleeping one night, he’ll usually take an Ambian the next. Sure enough, no answer.

Trying to avoid further conversation I said, “He’s probably asleep. I’ll just fix the flat myself. I think I have what I need. If not, I’ll just walk home and get John. I don’t live too far from here (a lie, we live about a 40 minute walk from that corner).” I thanked him for taking the trouble of coming back and he left.

Turns out I had everything I needed but a tire iron, which comes in handy when changing a flat, so I started walking toward home. Soon a sputtering, beat-up Beretta pulled up and rolled down its window. “Is that your car back there? Do you need any help?” It was a woman in her 20s. I could here a baby crying in the back seat.

“Actually, I’m walking home to get some things to fix it.”

“Do you live near here?”

“I live up in Holy Cross. Would you mind dropping me off at Highland ST,” which would cut about 15 minutes off my walk. In retrospect, I can’t believe I asked a young woman to give me a ride at midnight on 10th Street. If I’d been her, I probably would have said no. But she said, “sure.” She told me she was on her way home from work and had just picked up her baby. I thanked her profusely and got out at Highland.

I started walking along darker streets, praying for safety. A few blocks in I noticed a man walking toward me carrying some sort of stick. I tried to look taller, clutching my keys like a fist full of silver dollars, ready to throw a punch if I needed to. As I got closer I heard the guy say, “Hi Sweetie!” It was John and he was carrying a tire iron.

“What are you doing out here, with a tire iron?” I asked. For a half-second I wondered if he wasn’t some midnight mirage conjured up by fear and a need for sleep.

“The phone kept ringing. I couldn’t get to it in time so I pushed star 69 to find out who it was. A guy asked if I knew someone with a white Grand Am. When I said I did he told me what happened. He asked me, ‘Who is he to you?’ and I told him you were my partner. I’m too Ambianized to drive, so I grabbed a tire iron and started walking.” I don’t know how John knew I needed a tire iron, but it didn’t surprise me. He’s like a walking Swiss army knife.

I used John’s phone to report the license of the drunk driver as we walked back to the car. Even Ambianzed, John put on the spare. “I’ve put brakes on this car so many times, it will take us longer to drive home than for me to replace the tire.” I was amazed, but he was right. He chatted the entire time, probably trying to keep himself awake. As he worked, several other drivers stopped and asked if we needed help, all driving cars as beat up as ours. The nicer cars kept moving. I felt like I was living a 21st century version of The Good Samaritan story.

When we got the spare on we realized it had about a frog’s breath worth of air in it. We said a prayer and drove on it anyway. 10 mph all the way. By the time we pulled up in front of the house we were driving on the rim, but we made it.

I know I should be mad about the drunk driver and my own stupidity for not carrying a phone and a decent spare, but honestly, I can’t stop thinking about how kind people were—complete strangers in the middle of the night and in a not so great part of town. And on top of that, God is gracious enough to have me living with my own guardian angel. I’m bizarrely grateful for the experience.


9 Comments:

Anonymous Sally said...

Troy,
I am so glad that you are okay. I am encouraged by your story, maybe I will come south of 86th Street.

12:45 PM  
Blogger Simon said...

You know what? I like that story! :) The kindness of strangers... When I read stories like that, I smile and I am glad to see that there is still some good in this world!

Take care!

12:50 PM  
Anonymous David said...

My Gawd Troy...I would have been in tears. I too am glad you're okay...I shuttered while reading your story and yes, the kindness of strangers is beautiful and inspiring. Should I pick you up for reality TV tomorrow night? :)

P.S.-In the future, if you can't reach John in emergencies like this, call me. While I can't change a tire, I do have AAA.

1:05 PM  
Blogger sirrom said...

Troy ... I second David's motion ---AAA. My son, David, talked me into getting signed up. So far haven't had to use it for the auto, but on a recent trip with Practical Pat to New England, it saved me $60.00 on the bill at Hampton Inn.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Crystal said...

i am glad that you were aware enough to get over before that idiot hit you.
And is there something about batesville folks and grand ams? Mine is red, and I will have a coniption the moment she decides "enough is enough...get a new car already!"
and if you don't get AAA-check with your cell phone company...for 3 dollars a month i've got roadside assistance--5 gallons of gas/tow (up to $60 ??). it's better than nothing. cuz i am too dang girly to be changing a tire--i don't care how sexist it is. I want a SOMEONE, anyone other than me to have to change a tire.

11:15 AM  
Anonymous Karen said...

...and Troy, if you can't reach David, please call Marc or me! We're not that far!!

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Marcie said...

Troy,

I know we don't see each other often, but I do visit often as per Karen is of course, always gushing about you and John.

I'm so glad that you are OK and I promise that Erich and I will make it to church again SOMETIME, if wedding season would ever end!

This was heartwarming, although I was a bit nervous there reading about all the walking and I cannot believe a woman with a baby slowed to help! WOW! It makes you happy to be living in such a small *big* city.

Hope to see you soon!

2:00 PM  
Anonymous jennie said...

Hey, I had a comment on here and I'm not sure what happened to it! I basically just wanted to say how glad I am that everything turned out okay.

6:57 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I absolutely love this story. The kindness of strangers. I am experiencing just the same thing in Guatemala. This story needs to be used in a sermon sometime in the future ;)

11:54 AM  

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