You think that when you get something replaced, you have that solved for a while. New couch; don’t have to worry about the couch thing. New gallon of milk; don’t have to worry about that spoiling for a while. New tires; don’t have to worry about a blowout on a nowhere Indiana road on Mothers’ Day spinning in circles to smash against the guardrail and be T-boned by a Wisconsin license plate. See the thing is there, with that last one, apparently I did have to worry.
A near death experience really isn’t, because how do I know where death is and how far I am from it? It’s been a few weeks and my wife now just says at parties, “Did you hear about his near death experience?”
And I start, “Well, you see the new car out front? The hybrid?”
And I’m well trained with this and I start the story, “So picture this, Mothers’ Day, 2009, nowhere Indiana…” and later I leave out the part about the angry voicemail messages she left me because I was late for the barbeque, never a concerned one, only angry. And I leave out the part about how I began to judge people by their license plates. Wisconsinites were out for obvious reasons. I’m not getting in a car with one of them. Indianaians were not going to stop for some Illinois tourist. Illinoisans were too busy trying to get to and from Chicago with the smallest amount of time spent in Red State Land. And Michiganites, I just crossed my fingers and prayed they wouldn’t stop. How do you turn down a Good Samaritan? “Oh no thanks, I’d rather just wait on the side of the road.”
And there I was, sitting waiting for a tow truck, baked in early May sun, kicking over roadside grass next to my shriveled car. And here’s the thing; the thought wasn’t, Oh my God, I walked away. It was, who was that actor in the new Indiana Jones? Shia La-something-French. And I thought kicking the grass would get the blood moving. I actually thought that. I should kick the grass, I thought, get the blood moving.
It was then that I saw a car pull over. North Dakota? I got nothing for a North Dakotan. His license plate read “PHEV” and I had no idea what that meant, filed it away for later.
“Tire blow out?” he called walking toward me.
“Yeah, just waiting on a tow truck.” I said.
“Need a ride?” I scanned him and the car for the sadistic killer factor. None. “Where you headed?”
“Over to Grand Haven,” I said. “What about you?”
“Not too far from there. I’ll give you a ride.”
“Thanks, but I think it will be a little bit before anyone shows up. I’d hate for you to have to wait.”
“Seriously, no problem,” he said. “I’ve got thirty pages of my book left and I’m parked near a patch of wild flowers. I’ll wait for you.”
I said thank you and he walked back to his car, rolled his windows down, put his feet up on the dashboard, and opened his book. A North Dakotan, I couldn’t imagine a better savior.
I couldn’t call my wife. My phone was on the passenger seat and was crushed when the car hit. She felt bad about the messages when she found out what happened. She asked me why didn’t I call and I told her about my phone. She said, “You should have borrowed someone else’s’.” And I told her I didn’t think of it. I went through this conversation in my head as I was kicking grass, waiting, as I knew it was going to happen soon.
The tow-truck came, cleared the car. I filed a report with Officer Kent Rogers who said that I have to be careful, even when things seemed new. Seemed? They were a week old. I told him thank you and that I’d be more careful next time.
The other car? Fine. Drove off. Left me a phone number.
The first thing Clyde asked me, that was his real name, he told me he preferred Rusty, the first thing Rusty asked me after I interrupted his last few pages was if I was okay. He didn’t ask me what happened. I told him that it was frightening, the accident, that I saw the car heading right toward me, that I lost control. He said that he assumed that’s what happened, he had seen the damage, but he asked me if I was okay.
“Honestly, yes. I’ve been trying to think of an actor’s name.”
“Maybe it hasn’t hit yet,” he said.
“Maybe. That’s what the say, I guess. Thanks for waiting. You finish your book?”
“Five pages left.”
“I’ve never been to North Dakota,” I said. “I’d really like to see Mount Rushmore.”
“It is beautiful. And in South Dakota,” Rusty said.
“Oh. What’s in North Dakota?”
“I will bring you to the front door of wherever you’re going if you can tell me one thing in North Dakota.”
“I’m striking out here,” I said and we went on like that. We had another two or so hours left and everything and nothing to talk about. You ask and answer the same questions about work, wife, kids, anecdotes thrown here and there, and at the end, when the door is closed, money is offered, and the bending over wave goodbye, the next day, it ends up the same as a movie montage: a few moments stand out, Rusty laughing through his beard, that I have to google humanist urns in the months to come, that’s his website, it just isn’t up yet, but I have to keep googling it, his story about the bear on his front porch, and why his kid went to school out of state.
“I gotta ask, what is PHEV?” I said.
“I can’t get one quite yet,” Rusty said, his hand out the open window. “Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. I figure this license plate is the next best thing.”
He took Lake Shore Drive up from Holland, said he liked it better with the view and all. I asked him where he was ending up and he said that he guessed Michigan, that he had never been before, did I have any suggestions? I sent him on a lighthouse tour.
As I was getting out of the car, I said, “Badlands. The Badlands are in North Dakota. My father always said that I had to see them to believe them.”
“There you go,” Rusty said and that’s how we left it.
What got me though is that as my wife came out of her parents’ house, almost stomping over to me, the first thing I said was that I really liked people from North Dakota.
She asked me where I was and why I was late, asked rather persistently, and I said to hold on, I had to tell her about Rusty first, how he waited, how he was reading a book called, “What Every Young Gentleman Should Know.” She just wanted to hear about the accident.
And I get that, but for once, the first thing I told my wife about my day wasn’t about the idiot who took up two spaces at the super market, the printer that wouldn’t print, or the dog who wouldn’t stop barking outside of my office window. Maybe I got tired of walking on flat ground and needed to start from someplace lower. Maybe a near death experience doesn’t grant you that glimpse of the other side, but just reminders us that things like death exist.
But that’s not what the story I tell, what my wife tells me to tell, is about. It starts out and ends up with the new car, about why we now have a hybrid, why we became conscientious consumers.
No one asks how I got out of Indiana, just about what tires I bought because they sure aren’t going to get that brand yet here I am, biking to work and every day, before I open my e-mail, I type in “humanist urns” and nothing comes up yet.
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