And Away I Went

I got in the truck… and away I went.

Oh, that’s right, most people like reading the first paragraph, well, first:

A burned out ignition coil on the last day of a beach vacation is a real buzz killer. Oh, and another thing: The nearest dealer was over 150 miles away in Montgomery.

For the record, I’ve complained to the editor about the disappearing-first-paragraph problem in the online edition, and he said that The Huntsville Times doesn’t own the website but instead contracts out so therefore they have no control over it.

I say it’s about time The Huntsville Times joins the 21st century and creates their own website like so many other newspapers have. We’re not in 1995 anymore, people.

I was a little nervous about riding so far with someone I didn’t know, but sometimes it pays off to take some chances. The view from my passenger side window and my conversations with Keith were just what this sometimes shell-shocked cynic needed.

There’s a lot of bad in the news these days, but there’s a lot of good “out there” too. This country is made strong and resilient by its lifeblood–its people. I really do believe the common man/woman/child has more to do with the sustained success of this country than who occupies the Oval Office at any given moment.

But it helps to have a good President too.

  1. Keith Brenton

    I say write a throwaway introductory paragraph for each column. Quote Richard Dawkins, or Paris Hilton, or someone equally inane. Then you’ll have the entire story online.

    And when people ask you what the doofy opening quote in the print version has to do with the column you wrote, just point them to the online story for the “unedited” version.

    I can tell I like Keith already.

    (Though I’ll bet he doesn’t quote Christopher Hitchens very much. Maybe Lindsay Lohan.)

  2. Mike the Eyeguy

    That’s sheer brilliance. Now I know why you’re a bigwig at New Wineskins. (Click here evra’body!)

    Speaking of which, don’t you have some expertise in web design? I know a certain newspaper that could benefit from your services.

    I think Keith the Tow Truck Driver has more common sense in his pinky finger than Dawkins, Hilton, Hitchens and Lohan and their entire entourages have combined. I bet The Other Keith does too.

  3. JRB

    This makes me all the sadder that we were far away from the Capital City where you ended your moonlit jaunt across Lower Alabama. Well done, well written.

  4. Mike the Eyeguy

    Thanks for the kind words. I’ll give you another chance to flex those hospitality muscles sometime, I promise.

  5. Brady

    Good article. But tell me, was Keith just a little bit “bitter”?

  6. Mike the Eyeguy

    Yeah, my timing was impeccable, wasn’t it?

    Keith didn’t seem bitter to me, not even a little bit. He’s a better man than that. Of course, he has a steady income, lives near the Gulf and takes his boat out for some deep sea fishing when he’s not towing the likes of me around. I would guess that he also spends some time at Hooters on a regular basis.

    Not exactly the batter for bitterness if you ask me.

  7. Stoogelover

    For at least the next four years, I think we’ll have to rely far more on the people than the President!

  8. Mike the Eyeguy

    And let’s not forget undertakers! Where would we be without them?

    Answer: Above ground.

  9. Mike the Eyeguy

    The link to my column will eventually stop working, so here is the column in its entirety:

    Life Lessons From Keith Learned in a Tow Truck

    A burned out ignition coil on the last day of a beach vacation is a real buzz killer. Oh, and another thing: The nearest dealer was over 150 miles away in Montgomery.

    But my sad tale of paradise interrupted ends well. For every “fix” there’s a “fixer.” Mine was a Diet Coke-swilling, chain-smoking, insomniac tow-truck driver named Keith.

    After a tense afternoon on the phone, we’d finally found someone willing to make such a long trip on a Friday night. Keith was the man with the time, the truck and the insomnia for the job.

    He came by his sleeplessness honestly. Keith was a retired Air Force tech sergeant who had built “tent cities” and wired them up in various exotic locales throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.

    “We put up stuff that the Army couldn’t,” he boasted.

    Occasionally, Keith even put in a swimming pool. You know those fly-boys and their creature comforts.

    “Yeah,” he explained as he pulled a pack of Camels from his shirt pocket, “I only sleep about two hours a night anyway, so this is nothing. Mind if I smoke? I’ll keep the window rolled down.”

    Well, actually I do, I thought. But you go right ahead, brother. There’s no way I’m denying you nicotine on tonight of all nights.

    Off we went on our mad, moonlit dash up U.S. 331. He told me that he had just picked up his flatbed truck from the shop that afternoon right before he received the call to come get me. That didn’t exactly inspire my confidence. But that was only the beginning.

    I saw that he kept lifting up his round, rimless glasses to look at his dashboard. Being an optometrist, I notice stuff like that.

    “Yeah, I can’t see the damn dashboard anymore with these stupid glasses. My night vision ain’t what it used to be either. But as long as I can see the lines on the road, we’ll be fine.”

    I’d heard that line before. I double-checked my seat belt and consoled myself with the thought that if we hit something, a 6-ton tow truck plus car would likely come out the winner.

    We sped over Choctawhatchee Bay, past Eglin Air Force Base, through Florala, and onward and upward toward Opp.

    The heart of the Deep South was beating out its familiar Friday night rhythm. Families gathered beside lighted baseball diamonds for early season practice, dimly lit, locally owned diners bustled with loyal patrons and elderly couples rocked on the front porches of ancient clapboard houses in one-stoplight towns.

    I watched the lifeblood of a great nation flow by my passenger side window. I saw the workaday people who go about their tasks, earning their daily bread and caring for their families and neighbors with nary a complaint, forever faithful in the trenches. People sort of like Keith.

    Depressed over the sound and fury of presidential politics? Then remember that regardless of who occupies the Oval Office next January, those same salt-of-the-earth souls will still be holding down the fort. Let that be a comfort to you.

    Four hours after our odyssey began, we reached Montgomery and dropped off my car. By that time, Keith had polished off three Diet Cokes and four cigarettes, and shouted out his entire life story over the deafening roar of his diesel engine. He was clearly feeling the euphoria of “mission accomplished.”

    “Hey, let’s go to Hooters! I’m buyin’!” he generously offered. Such is the bond that forms between the tow-er and the towed.

    For the record, I politely declined. He agreed to drop me at my hotel instead. Although I had a reservation, he told me that he would wait around until I had my key.

    I paid him his fee ($264 after AAA discount) plus tip. It occurred to me that it had been quite a while since I had received such fine service.

    As I walked along the second-floor balcony toward my room, Keith spotted me, gave me a little salute and hit the gas. I stopped, stood at attention and saluted right back.

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