“And the devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said, ‘Boy, let me tell you what …’”
–The Charlie Daniels Band, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
I learned something last week. It’s no fun being on the stump.
No, I don’t mean wading into the sordid, shark-infested waters of politics. I mean, quite literally, being on a stump.
Last Friday evening, I was driving home from work when a motorist suddenly, inexplicably, decided to cross the double yellow lines in the middle of Falls Road in Medfield and hang a U-turn into my lane. To avoid colliding with him and other vehicles, I desperately swerved onto the sidewalk and wound up crashing into a tree stump. Miraculously, there was no one strolling by or walking their dog at the time, and I was shaken up but overall fine.
But there was my damaged Chevy Cavalier, resting on a stump and partially suspended in the air, almost like it was teetering on a seesaw or undergoing a visit to Jiffy Lube.
To his credit, the driver of the offending car pulled over and got out, inquiring casually if I needed any help getting my car off the tree trunk. I responded in the affirmative, but attempted to calmly remind him that crossing double lines on a busy thoroughfare is not permitted (or advisable). This prompted the gentleman to abruptly toss his hands in the air, return to his car and speed off.
So much for being a Good Samaritan.
At that point, I walked over to a nearby gas station to use their phone and call my wife for help (natch, this was the one day I left my cell phone at home to re-charge).
While waiting for the missus — who got rather grumpy on the phone around the seventh time I uttered the word stump instead of telling her my car’s exact location to give to roadside assistance operators — I bore witness to the best and worst in humanity.
On one hand, there was the kind, caring police officer who tried to help me in any way he could. Yes, he did inquire if I parked on the stump intentionally, something I’m not sure I could’ve managed in my wildest dreams.
While chatting with Officer Josh (I never got his last name), one passing motorist decided to roll down his window and yell to me, with a snarky smile, “Hey, nice car!” Mind you, this wasn’t some arrogant, impish teenager but a middle-age man who looked like any attorney or accountant. Officer Josh just shook his head and chuckled to himself.
Another Roadside Attraction
Later, while sitting in my wife’s warm car a few feet away from the scene of the accident and waiting for a tow truck, I noticed a gaggle of what appeared to be frat boys gathered around my Cavalier. They’d stopped their car, parked across the street and decided to inspect my poor “stump-mobile.” They were laughing uproariously and taking photos. When I went over and asked testily if I could help them with anything, they responded, “Dude, is this your car? What happened? This is just so, so cool!”
Repeatedly, I saw this quirky, irksome side of human nature, where people – more often than not young men – came over and took scores of pictures of my car like it was a sideshow oddity or one of those statues on Easter Island. I have no doubt those images are now plastered all over Facebook and Instagram.
One guy with a backwards baseball cap couldn’t help himself from standing in the middle of Falls Road to take pictures, in the process coming perilously close to getting plowed over by a Nissan Rogue. Another fellow came by in a sleeveless T-shirt (it must’ve been 25 degrees that night) and asked if I would take a shot of him underneath my car, to look like he was bench-pressing it. (Disgusted, I told him to get lost.)
There was also the resident of one of the rowhomes near the accident who hopped out of a taxi, laughed with abandon and joy when noticing my car, got out his phone and took dozens of pictures. He then merrily ran into his home like he’d won the Lotto, never noticing that my wife and I were watching him the whole time.
“He doesn’t even know if someone got killed in that car,” I said to my wife, incredulous. “What’s wrong with these people? Are their lives so dull and tragic that this is a high point of their existence?”
Still waiting for AAA to put an end to my misery, I observed an elderly woman with a walker and an oxygen tank go up and study my car. What terrified me most was she was chain-smoking Marlboros — not a smart thing to do near a vehicle whose oil pan might be leaking (not to mention when you use an oxygen tank).
“People around here drive like absolute idiots,” she grumbled. “Why would any moron park like this?” Before I could speak up, she began to shuffle away, almost getting knocked over by yet another young man with a phone camera. This one, however, informed me he was a photographer for a local TV station and his producer instructed him to take photos of my car for the 11 o’clock news.
The photographer asked if I’d mind standing in front of the car and say a few words into his camera about the genesis of the accident. Alas, my response can’t be printed in a family publication or on the 11 o’clock news.
Eventually, the tow truck driver arrived and got me off the stump, to my astonishment and delight. I was able to drive my car home that night, which was a certified miracle to me and the tow truck driver himself. It did cost me a pretty penny a couple of days later when my engine light went off. I guess that’s the price of, as they say, living in the big city.
Whenever dealing with an accident, one usually sees the best and worst in people. There’s something about accidents that brings that out. People always get … edgy.
With my experience last week, the phrase schadenfreude comes to mind, that cumbersome German word meaning to take great pleasure or self-satisfaction in someone else’s misfortune. I saw that up close that night.
But I also saw individuals who exhibited noble, compassionate and endearing qualities during my time of need. A Falls Road resident who asked me if I wanted to come inside and warm up with a steaming cup of cocoa (I politely declined). Another lady who offered to ask her neighbors to check their porch security video cameras to see if the accident was recorded (I gratefully accepted that offer). The gas station attendant who kindly let me use his phone, and the cop who offered a sympathetic ear (while letting me know I didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell bringing to justice the idiot who veered into my lane).
And then there was the tow truck driver, Ryan, who worked so tirelessly and methodically to extricate my car from that stubborn, mean old stump.
When looking back on that long, cold, surreal night on the stump, those are the folks I’ll remember best. Because, to paraphrase that greatest champion of the people, Abe Lincoln, they were the ones who revealed the better angels of our nature. May God bless ’em.