The sky was clear and calm. The nervous energy of a workday was dissolving into a stream of red lights as the cars filled the roads out of Saint Paul. It was time for the city to evacuate to the ancestral homelands in the northwoods of Minnesota for another Thanksgiving. We packed the car hurriedly and joined the stream with every reason to expect a good 4 1/2 hour drive north to Bemidji. There was no snow, no ice – but we didn’t expect there would be a couple of chainsaws.
It was near Royalton that a boring drive turned into something else. We were laughing about a rolling electric sign at a convenience store proclaiming: Big Game Supplies / Bait and Tackle / Minnows / Espresso Bar. Up ahead, someone had pulled off the road and was up to something on the right, so my partner Cristy gave them her full attention as a potential hazard. She had no time to react to the thing in the middle of the road that was small and dark and unseen until the front spoiler of the car scooped it up.
She had no idea what it was, but I could see that the truck on the side had lost another one off to the side. They were chainsaws, fallen off the back, and we hit the one in the middle of the lane square on. Cristy eased the car over carefully, not revealing how her heart most have been pounding in response to the horrible scraping noise underneath. We decelerated out of the situation, from 60 miles an hour to zero by the side of the road and sat.
“What was that?” Cristy asked without expecting an answer.
“I think it was a chainsaw. I saw another.”
“Well, there goes the tire.”
“I think you hit it dead on.”
“Where did it come from?”
“That guy back there, I think he dropped them.”
“What should we do?” I suddenly noticed the COOLANT light come on.
“Turn off the engine! Now!” And Cristy did.
I got out to survey what happened. Yes, there was a chainsaw under the car and a thin stream of liquid betraying our path. Not a good thing. But we were all safe and the car didn’t appear to have been too badly damaged. That’s when I saw the mysterious truck fly past us, fleeing the scene a bit too quickly for me to catch a plate. It answered a few questions, if you assume some level of drinking had been involved in the whole process of not quite tying down some expensive equipment. Drinking and driving is bad enough, but drinking and chainsawing sounds far worse. Off he went, into the night.
We were alone and cold, without even an engine to keep us warm.
Fortunately, those of us with only one car have AAA, and they responded wonderfully. They located a tow truck and repair show just a few miles away, although a rental car is hard to find on the night before Thanksgiving. We were going to wing this. In just a few minutes, Gene showed up with his wrecker and lifted our wounded machine up onto the back.
“Thank you so much for coming out.” I told him
“Well, we were on our way home when the phone rang. We always answer the phone.”
“Glad you do. Really saved us.”
“We’re not going to be able to get any parts until Friday, maybe not Monday.”
“Yeah, you have a rental we can have?”
“I … I don’t have anything you would want, I think.” He took as a city sophisticates.
“My standards are lower than you know,” I told him.
“Well, I have this Ford Tempo. Good runner.”
“That’s great! I drove Escorts for years, so it’s a step up!”
“Oh, OK, then.”
Gene was very gracious and efficient, getting us into a 1994 Tempo in no time at all. It doesn’t shift all that well, which I suspect is a vacuum leak, but it works. It was a real treat to have rejoined the Brotherhood of Crappy Cars, at least on a temporary basis. It was about 2 more hours up to Bemidji, a total of 7 1/2 hours of being on the road, beside the road, and contemplating the detritus of the road.
The story itself isn’t that particular or special. What makes it important is the retelling, the elaboration into a lesson about life. At one convenience store where I stopped to pick up some fizzy sugar water, the Clerk stuck working that night asked how the roads were. “Not bad except for chainsaws!” I told him, and then was obliged to go into the whole story. I laughed and waved my arms as I recounted the whole thing to him, and his wrinkled expression told me he found it really awful. But it wasn’t. No one was hurt, and it all worked out after a brief delay for technical difficulties.
I told it straight up, wrapped in my giddy delight that these sorts of things just happen. The message was clear: There’s always something to be thankful for, and if nothing else you can be damned thankful you aren’t me right now. Go ahead, it’s Thanksgiving. It was my present to him, in a way, the present of a story that made a fairly ordinary day seem like a blessing. It is, after all.
We told the story to Cristy’s family, too, as often as they wanted to hear it. I’m thankful and I’m always thankful, even when it doesn’t go right as planned. That’s what insurance and AAA are there to cover, after all. A few hours spent by the road is nothing if it gives you a decent story to tell. We all had a lot to be thankful for as we sat down, together, and had a traditional dinner.