The tow truck arrived about ten minutes later. The guy got out and my first thought was “a right jolly old elf.” He didn’t quite look like Santa, but…he looked like Santa. Perhaps Santa’s southern cousin. He was rotund and cheerful, with long, pale hair and beard. He called me “Buddy.” A lot.
“You gonna need a ride, Buddy?”
“Yeah, I don’t have a ride home.”
“Where do you live, Buddy?”
“Okay if I take you to our yard, Buddy? Can someone meet you there?”
“Yes. But the window won’t go up; can you store it under cover until we get it to a shop?”
“It ain’t going to a shop, Buddy. The air bag deployed; they’ll total it.” Ouch. “Why won’t the window go up?”
“I…I don’t know? I guess because of the accident.”
He walked to the car with authority, opened the door, and pushed the window control. Nothing happened. Having exhausted his knowledge on the subject, he closed the door and told me they’d tape some plastic over it.
He returned to the bed of his truck, released the winch, and unwound the chain he was going to use to pull my wreck onto the bed. I grabbed my backpack and a box from my car and walked them to the passenger-side door of his truck cab.
“You don’t need to do that, Buddy! You can get that stuff after we get there.” I kept it, anyway. Then I opened the door and understood why he didn’t want any extra baggage in the cab – it was already full of junk.
A Mountain Dew bottle rolled out and an invoice sheet fluttered to the ground. The seat was covered with chip bags, receipts, empty bottles, and other crap. The floor, too. I tossed my backpack and box in, hoping they would stem the flow of garbage out of the truck onto the ground, then picked up the pieces that had already fallen.
The car was in place by then, and he shouted, “Okay, Buddy, we’re ready to go!”
“What about those?” I asked, pointing to the fenders and other pieces of our cars in the shoulder. “Don’t we need to take those?”
He looked at me as if I had an arm growing out of the center of my forehead. “Why?” he roared, only his accent made it sound like, “Wah?” He laughed and jumped into the driver seat. I gave my fender one last, forlorn look, then winced at the pain as I pulled myself up the two ladder steps into his truck cab.
We left just in time to get into rush hour traffic, which was a nightmare to watch during the immediate trauma of having been in a wreck. Santa thought it would be a good idea to give color commentary on the stupid things other drivers were doing. I was concentrating on watching anything but the cars around us.
Once we hit a clear patch and he was moving at a decent clip, he got quiet again. But not for long. I get the feeling he gets bored with silence, so he broke it by singing, “Scooby Dooby Doo, Where are you?” Only his accent made it sound like, “Scewby Dewby Dew, Hware arr yew?”
I gave a silent prayer of thanks that he didn’t continue the song. After 15 minutes of travel, I was kicking myself for that prayer, because he had KEPT SINGING THE SAME TWO LINES. I’m not kidding; he sang the first two lines of the “Scooby Doo” theme song more than he called me “Buddy” – and that was a lot. I wasn’t sure if I should admit I knew the rest of the song, or just look at him and yell, “Zoinks!” In the end, I figured he wouldn’t appreciate either, so I stayed quiet and focused on my pain.
My chest and side were hurting more, but unless I wanted to give Santa a bit of a show, I couldn’t really check on them. My right ring finger didn’t hurt per se, but I could feel pressure building in the fingertip. I looked at it and was shocked to see everything above the last knuckle had turned deep purple, and swollen profusely.
We reached the wrecker lot, where Santa Shaggy drove through a gate into what looked like the secret automobile burial grounds – the place where they all go to die. It was a packed gravel surface with a bunch of broken parts and other debris scattered about, with maybe 100 wrecks off to the sides. There were cars, trucks, even the empty husk of a school bus. I felt sure this place must be haunted. About 50 yards beyond the main lot was a collection that made me certain about that. If the main lot was a burial ground, then the weed-entombed satellite lot was the Pet Sematary. I hoped my car wouldn’t end up there, where a malevolent spirit would resurrect it and send it back to prey on me.
Santa led me through the shop to a waiting room, but I’d had enough waiting. I asked for the bathroom I’d needed for 3-4 hours now – it was cleanish, but I still had my doubts about touching anything in there. And there was no hook, so I didn’t know what to do with the backpack that my current pain level kept me from wearing on my torso. I thought about holding it in one hand and holding…something else…in my other hand, but I didn’t trust my shaky hands to not drop the backpack and to aim correctly, respectively. So I picked a spot on the floor that looked like it might have fewer lingering germs, put the backpack on it, and promised myself I’d put the repercussions out of my mind during all of the future times I’d be touching the backpack.
Finally free of that burden, I returned to the waiting room and had a look around. It had wood paneling, which I think is a requirement for most waiting rooms in auto service establishments. There were all sorts of files, knick-knacks and other things stacked in random piles, as if it were someone’s messy den. My favorite things there were the sign threatening to cut the hand off anyone messing with the thermostat, and the bed in the corner. I think it was supposed to be a day-bed/sofa type of deal, but I have to be honest – it was a bed, and I was pretty sure someone had been sleeping on it, possibly living there in the den. I was through this when I got a reprieve in the form of a text message from Matthew: “We are here”
I collected my things, pushed open the door, and stepped out into the dying daylight. Kim’s car was a welcome sight, with her and Matthew sitting in the front. I hobbled over to the trunk, which she popped open from the driver’s seat before getting out to greet me. I dropped my box and backpack in, looked up, and nearly fell into her arms. “I don’t want to hurt you,” she said, giving me as light a hug as possible until she could find out where my pain was.
I turned around and Matthew was at my other side, waiting to provide further comfort in the form of a second hug. He hadn’t heard Kim and didn’t realize how much pain I was in, so he gave me a full hug. It hurt like hell, but I wouldn’t have asked him to ease up. As my friend Gavin once said of his own son, close in age to and very much like our magical Matthew, “Hugs from him are like huffing pure sunshine.” I bore the pain, and took solace in the hug.
Once we broke apart, I shuffled to the passenger door, fell into the car, and melted into the seat. I would be going to the doctor soon, I would be dealing with the insurance company after that, and I would probably be working out a way to afford a new car, but before all that, I was headed home at last.