“Yup, sounds like the starter’s dead” offered the AAA tow truck driver that eventually came after an hour of attempts by my numerous in-laws to first jump-start, push, loosen then re-tighten, and finally pray my truck back to life, all with no success. They, too, had concluded the problem was the starter. I agreed whole-heartedly with their diagnosis, not because I knew what a starter was, but because it was the only part name that didn’t ring a bell as something I’d replaced in the past three years. I heard someone say once that you’re never more than fifteen minutes away from anyplace in Redding; well, my truck is never more than $300 away from being ‘fixed.’
It was the last day of our extended family camping trip, departure day, and I was in “get this crap into the car any way possible so we can leave” mode. We got everything packed, the kids were ready to be straight-jacketed into their seats, I was raring to go— and now my truck wouldn’t start. Dismay descended like the curtains of dusk over my wife’s face, but reflected in her eyes were dollar signs, not a sunset. I also saw there the sudden and sinking memory of downgrading our insurance plan with AAA; we’d long since excised anything from our lives labeled ‘premium.’ “Atticus!” I hissed out forcefully under my breath, eliciting a loud snicker from a nearby sister-in-law. It was a new inside joke from our week of camping. At least ten times a day, and quite loudly, a lady from the neighboring campsite would shriek this word out after her 4 year-old son in clear dismay. Apparently it was his name. It instantly became my new improvised swear word. A Spartan-worthy swear word. Couldn’t get the fire going?— “Atticus!” Couldn’t get my older son interested in shooting the handmade bow I crafted for him out of a willow branch and 30 lb. fishing line?—“Atticus!” Couldn’t find my flashlight in the middle of the night to locate the sippy cup for the screaming toddler who was waking up the entire park and mortifying his parents in the process?— “Atticus, Atticus, Atticuuus!” For some reason I got less mirth from invoking the boy’s name on this occasion than I had previously—swearing didn’t change our predicament much. Thankfully, my mother-in-law stepped in to save the day, offering one of their free tows to get us home. We humbly but gratefully accepted and called for the tow truck.
Maybe a half-hour after everyone left, the tow truck driver pulled up. He stopped his rig and jumped out like picking up my truck was part of a triathlon obstacle course or maybe the final stage in the amazing race, jogged over to me and asked in an “I’ve just inhaled 3 Red Bulls” tone of voice— “WHAT’S THE PROBLEM!?!” My irritation levels were such at this point that I wanted very badly to ask him in return if he was a mechanic or a tow truck driver? Or perhaps a triathlete-running mechanic who stole a tow truck? What, like you're going to instantly fix my truck on the spot? TOW THE TRUCK ALREADY! Instead, my noble inner pastor ordered my inner smart-mouth to the rear of the bus (thanks Bill) and I told the reflective vest for a jersey-wearing triathlete tow truck driver my best guess: the starter. Which my inner show-off proudly pretended was my own diagnosis (Thanks in-laws).
As I watched him load up my Achilles truck, something about the man kept bothering me. Finally it hit me— his build, facial features and hyper-energetic mannerisms were alarmingly similar to a man I’d known who always irritated the Christian love right out of me. Let’s just call ‘that guy’ Joe. It was eerie. The tow truck driver walked like Joe. He talked like Joe. He had the same facial hair and the same facial hair coloring in the same facial hair places as Joe. He smiled like Joe. He moved his arms when he talked like Joe. And at that moment I prayed very hard he was nothing like Joe… because… this particular ‘free tow’ was looking to burn up about 98 out of 100 permitted miles. And that was a long way to be alone in a small cab with a man who looked just like Joe.
Once the bane of my existence had been hoisted and cinched and was ready for transport, Joe’s tow truck doppelganger grinned a Ray Ban accessorized smile and grunted, “Saddle up!”— so I saddled. Then I sat as quietly as I could and looked out the passenger side window. With any luck, tow truck guy was an introvert with a lot on his mind and I could—
“Hey, you’re sure lucky I was in the area!” he belched out, not thirty seconds into our trip. The cab suddenly felt like an air-tight coffin. The walls were closing in. I was on the verge of slipping into a despair-induced coma when the conversation and his demeanor took an unexpected turn for the better.
“Do you like to hunt?” he asked with genuine curiosity. A small ember of hope glowed to life in my soul and I nodded a 'yes,' still cautious.
“You?” I offered weakly in return, not wanting to get my hopes up. This ushered in two hours of the most unlikely and entertaining conversation I’ve had in weeks. Because tow truck dude turned out to be a pretty interesting guy.
As a teenager in Arkansas his dad had built a custom “meat processing” shop for a wealthy and eccentric hunter and world traveler who eventually became a close family friend. At age 16 and weighing 120 lbs. “soaking wet,” the shop owner had taken him on his first boar hunt.
“Gun or bow?” I asked.
“Knife,” he said with a perfectly straight face. I looked at him with a mixture of ridiculous respect and clinical concern. Apparently, after releasing a couple dogs to distract a 100-400 lb. boar, the idea is for the knife hunter to run into the fray, grab the back legs of the desired animal, and then begin repeatedly stabbing the creature as quickly and mercilessly as possible. Which sounds perfectly normal under the circumstances.
“Don’t they sort of have tusks?” I asked in shameless awe. In response, he extended his left arm in my direction, revealing about four trailing scars, each the length of a pencil.
“Yup,” he said.
He now carries one of the largest caliber handguns in the world as a back-up weapon, a $2000 custom built .454 Casull, with which he’d already put down at least one charging hog at a bowel-emptying 15 yards.
I saw him straighten up in his seat suddenly and could tell he’d remembered something--
“Hey,“ he said, turning to me, “didn’t you say you hunted too?”
“Yeah,” I mumbled into the roar of the engine, “I pretty much hunt just like you.”
By the end of the drive from Lassen Park to Weaverville I’d learned that my driver had been married in Hawaii, run from the law in Morocco and raced mountain bikes, motorcycles and stock cars in California. He’d also crashed a deluxe big rig once. But he told me he was most proud of saving a man’s life after figuring out a complex way to pick up the driver’s ruined car off of him from a roadway 80 feet above the wreckage. Basically, my tow-truck driver was an all-around seasoned veteran of a life lived full-throttle, and though I worried for his longevity, I admired him for his fearlessness.
“By the way,” I asked as he pumped my hand with a firm grip at the edge of my driveway, “what was your name again?”
“Joe,” said the tow truck driver that looked just like Joe.
“Mother of Atticus!” I blurted out.
The other Joe looked at me with a shrug, flashed his Red Bull grin and was gone.
Which just goes to show that, just because it walks like a Joe and talks like a Joe— even if it’s name happens to actually be Joe— it doesn’t mean it’s your average Joe.