Blind to Blindness

March 14, 2010

Anne and I met Claire the first day we moved into our new apartment. Having lived in the building for nearly 20 years, she was a wealth of knowledge. Claire appeared to be in her mid-60s, so we were surprised when she told us she had just turned 78. She attributed her youthful appearance to her diet and the fact she walks her dogs several times a day—one dog at a time. When she found out we were animal lovers, she let us in on a little secret. “According to the building’s bylaws you’re only supposed to have up to two dogs… but I have three,” she whispered. Then she continued, “I know I’m breaking the rules, but my three guys don’t bother a soul and I take darn good care of them.” Claire was charming… and no doubt, her dogs were well cared for.

The next day I saw Claire walking one of her dogs. I smiled, waved and said good morning. To my surprise, she just stared at me. Her warm smile and friendly demeanor were missing. That evening, I shared my experience with Anne. “Maybe she was deep in thought?” That was possible but it didn’t seem likely. “Plus, she actually looked a bit angry,” I added. When Anne pointed out that I might be over analyzing the situation and that I can sometimes be a bit overly sensitive… I concluded she was probably right.

But her theory was quickly dispelled the following morning when Anne and I both saw Claire on one of her walks. We smiled, waved and said, “Good morning… it looks like it’s going to be beautiful today!” Claire not only didn’t respond… she actually looked irritated and turned away. We couldn’t believe it. “Did you say something yesterday that could have offended her?” Anne asked. I certainly couldn’t think of anything. A few days later a similar encounter took place… and then again a day after that. I was growing tired of going out of my way to be nice, only to be shunned. Read more

Sleep-Deprived Samaritan

March 2, 2010

In 1977 I was working part time at an auto body shop while attending college. Since I was paying for my education, I jumped at the chance to drive the shop tow truck (wrecker) and make some extra cash. My employer had arrangements with the county police to have an operator available 24/7. So after hours and on weekends, I was on call. Depending on the situation, towing services typically cost between $20 to $40 dollars—and I received half. Considering my circumstances, the money was significant.

That winter was unprecedented. The number of consecutive freezing days and snowfall set an Illinois record and resulted in 62 deaths and more than 2,000 injuries. I was kept very busy.

One morning the shop received so many calls about stranded motorists, abandoned vehicles and accidents, I decided to skip class and keep working. The local radio station and newspaper warned residents to stay inside unless it was an emergency. They said if you absolutely had to travel be certain to carry a first-aid kit, flashlight (extra batteries), blankets, waterproof matches, a sack of sand, a shovel, tool kit, tow rope, booster cables, compass… the list was as extreme as the weather. Since cellular phones weren’t around back then, you had to think before venturing out.

By the end of the day I was beat. I arrived home and started taking off my boots when the phone rang. It was the county police: “This situation has gone from bad to worse… get back out there and start towing in any and every vehicle in sight.” Apparently the number of stranded vehicles was making it impossible to plow—not to mention dangerous.

I grabbed a sandwich and went back to work… and continued working for nearly 40 consecutive hours. Before long I had pulled in enough vehicles to pay for an entire semester of school. Financially, the blizzard seemed like a blessing to me.

At some point, as my boss was writing reports on all the frozen vehicles that had filled the parking lot, it hit him… “How long has McMillan been working?”

“Wrecker Boy, Wrecker Boy, do you copy?”

That was my “handle.” The older shop guys gave it to me. They found it funny. I didn’t mind. Even if I had, it wouldn’t have mattered—the police called me “Wrecker Boy,” too.

“I read you… over,” I responded.

“What’s your twenty?”

The radio was breaking up. I tried adjusting the squelch control but to no avail. “I’m not certain… out in the country… some place west of town,” I replied. I had strategically pulled in the vehicles closest to the shop first, then slowly worked my way further and further into the country… off the beaten path.

“It’s time you bring that damn wrecker in and get some rest.”

He was more right than he knew. I was exhausted and in desperate need of rest. Read more