Announcer: According to the old African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. But that’s nothing: it takes an entire city to keep Commentator Philip Baruth’s aging family car on the highway. Here’s Philip.
Notes From the New Vermont
Commentary #228: Towtruck Philosophy
I have bad car karma, and when that karma kicks in, it kicks in dramatically. Case in point: the other day my wife decides it’s time to take our compact in for a routine oil change. Now, the car is running just fine, but Annika thinks ahead about maintenance, which is a good thing when it comes to cars and oil.
And so far as she knows, the oil change comes off without a hitch. She puts the car back in the parking lot where I left it that morning, and when I’m ready to call it a day, I jump in it to come home.
But once I’m out on the highway, the oil light comes on, and the car shakes violently, and then it dies. I trudge fifteen minutes down the highway to a gas station, and then fifteen minutes back. The towtruck driver, when he finally arrives, points out that what’s left of our oil is currently draining out on the blacktop.
And then this towtruck driver, a nice upbeat guy with a little goatee, this guy winks at me and says, “Happy moments, man. Happy moments.” And at the time, I think he’s being ironic, and so I’m ironic back. “Oh yeah, very happy moments,” I say.
So the car gets towed back to the garage that did the oil change, and, as you probably suspected, they’d forgotten to put the plug back when they poured in the fresh oil. But they’re really apologetic, and they say they’ll have it running like a top by 9 the next morning. Which they do, and I drive the car to work the next day.
But when I come home from work, at rush hour, this time on a different stretch of highway, suddenly it’s Bermuda Triangle time again: the speedometer starts to twitch, the engine starts to to buck and shake — and before I know it I’m stopped dead just where the highway funnels up onto Shelburne Road.
Needless to say, I can’t push the car uphill by myself, but after a few minutes, a woman in a minivan jumps out and runs up to help. And then a guy in his fifties piles out of a sedan and runs over, and then a teenaged kid with a scraggly beard appears, and together we all push the car over to the shoulder, then slowly up the incline until it levels out near a supermarket parking lot.
But it’s a long push, and the minivan woman stops first, shouting, “I have my daughter in the car. I have to go back!” I thank her, and she sprints away. Never got her name, but in a way I didn’t have to.
And then the guy in his fifties peels off, but the teenaged kid with the scraggly beard is still pushing the car like it’s a tackle sled and this is his last chance to make the Chicago Bears defensive unit. And that’s when I notice his Mom, following us slowly in a green Volkswagen Beetle, to make sure no one plows into us.
Finally, the kid stands up, face flushed, and says, “You got it, bro!” and then he gives me the hipster handclasp with the interwoven thumbs, and just like that — we’re bros.
And of course, when the towtruck comes, it’s the same nice guy with the goatee from yesterday, and he smiles. “Happy moments,” he says again, and this time I get it: this isn’t some bit of ironic griping, this is his real philosophy, a way of refocusing the world on what isn’t breaking down and nearly killing you.
Once the car’s gone, I call Annika from a video store beside the grocery store. I have twenty minutes to wait, but it’s warm and they’re showing “All The President’s Men” on the big screen in the back, and I think, there are worse places to be stranded. And that’s when there’s a tap on my shoulder, and the girl running the counter hands me this little bag of popcorn.
“I just popped some fresh,” she says.
“Bless you,” I tell her, and suddenly I really, really mean it.
[This piece aired first on Vermont Public Radio. Audio of the commentary is available here.]