Dave Penn

Onward to home

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Rick popped out of the cab of his flatbed tow truck, a 5-foot-7 bundle of denim, wrinkles and wraparound shades that had neither slept nor felt the need to sleep for several days.


“You the guy with the car that don’t go?”


Yes, Rick. We just refueled on chicken and coleslaw at a diner, and 3 miles later, on the Maryland highway, the car don’t go: The Subaru’s cabin filled with a hot, sickly smell like what might emanate from a burning television. There was no acceleration, third gear was neutral, and there was just enough inertia left to get us to the next exit ramp. As good a place as any to break down.


My girlfriend and I listed the three or four things we thought might make a car behave so disagreeably. Well, might be a bad PCV valve, said Rick, but he could be wrong.


“I thought I was wrong once, but I was mistaken.”


Ninety-four miles is a long way to travel with a new acquaintance. Traveling 94 miles together can ruin once-promising romances. One is likely to be slain by a hobo before reaching the 94-mile mark as a hitchhiker.


But 94 miles we were bound to travel, to Bedford, Pa., where there was a clean, cheap motel, a place to reconnoiter. Rick would be our Sherpa.


So, where are you from, Rick?


“Boonsboro.”


What’s in Boonsboro?


“Nothing!”


Boonsboro, Md., is the town that birthed Rick, the town he fled two times and the town to which he returned 15 years ago. But he’ll be leaving again, in a year or so. He just started driving this truck last year. His buddy started the business, and they’re getting it off the ground.


The American Automobile Association is their bane and their savior. AAA pays them a pittance per mile, Rick says, barely enough to make it worthwhile, considering the cost of fuel. But it’s work, and it gets the company’s name out there.


Rick likes these long drives. The farthest he’s towed a vehicle was to Buffalo. He’s on call six days a week. Saturdays, his day off, he catches up on yard work and housework, so he’s fallen behind on his beer drinking.


Nobody in his family ever was any damn good, except maybe his mother.


He has a sister. She’s an administrator for a company that operates nursing homes, and she travels among them, administering. She made something of herself, and now she forgets where she came from. He has a brother, but he doesn’t talk about him.


Rick has married twice, divorced an equal number of times. The second one was the worse of the two. You see, he’s a caretaker type, and she took full advantage. It was two years of trying and seven years of extraction.


“Either of you ever been married?”


Yes, one of us has.


“You think you two’ll get married?”


Maybe if there’s a drive-through chapel in Bedford, I tell him. We’ll need a witness, and I’ll need a best man, if he’s free.


There’s no chapel in Bedford, but there is the motel, and there’s a garage down the road where Rick expertly jettisons the Subaru in the failing light. He drops us off at the motel, and I give him 20 dollars for his tolls and his trouble.


And then he’s gone, a speeding body encased in several tons of steel and oil.



Dave Penn is a copy editor for the Observer-Reporter. Contact him at dpenn@observer-reporter.com.


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