Tow-Truck Driving Man

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, June 11, 2006

The tow truck is finally pulling up the driveway, thank God, so, really, the only thing I'm concerned about now is making pleasant conversation.

The driver hops out, smiles, says his name is Mike. He's tall, muscular, with a goatee. "What's the matter with your car, and why do we have to take it so far?" he asks, bluntly.

I explain about the garage I recently used when I was multitasking at the outlet mall, which is about an hour from my home. I had just wanted an oil change, but what I got was a car that regurgitates oil in a most violent and overt manner. "They said to just bring the car back in," I say.

"Let's do it," he says.

Well, I'm sort of disappointed we got through that story so fast, seeing as that was my main topic of pleasant conversation. What are we going to talk about for an hour? Riding in a tow truck is nothing like riding on a bus or a train, where there are expectations of silence and anonymity. Or even in a taxi, where the seating arrangement gives everybody an excuse to zone out. No, in a tow truck you sit in the front, right there next to the driver, the two of you on a shared journey.

Mike hands me a clipboard, asks me to sign. All at once he winces, says, "Awww!"

"You okay?"

"I banged my knee the other day climbing into the other truck," he says. "Now that I'm 30, the injuries don't heal as fast." He says he has a girlfriend, 18, who's making fun of his limp. "I say to her, 'Someday you're going to be hobbling around, too,' and she says, 'If you're still with me when I'm all gimpy, just do me a favor and shoot me.'"

He laughs, shakes his head.

"I have pre-arthritic knees," I say, meekly.

"My mother does not like my girlfriend," he says. "But she didn't much like my wife, either."

And so we begin our journey, zooming several million miles an hour on back roads I've never been on before. I learn a lot about Mike's mother, who married a man 17 years older than she is, and so, really, she has no room to criticize Mike. That's the way I see it. Mike is not asking me about the way I see it. He says his friends tell him constantly how lucky he is to have a job that allows him to just drive all day. He says he does feel lucky, but no one realizes how much goes into it. "Alone all day with your thoughts," he says, "there's a lot that goes into that right there.

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