Dec. 13, 2007
The Tow Truck Driverís Story
Poem: "The Tow Truck Driver's Story" by Elizabeth W. Garber, from The Mayor and Other Stories of Small Town Life © The Illuminated Sea Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission.
The Tow Truck Driver's Story
You meet all kinds of people in this work.
You have to be polite, twenty-four hours
a day. It was a brutal winter night,
I'd worked since four a.m., finally coming in
to sleep when the phone rang, a guy calling
from up on Appleton ridge, saying
he needs a jump. I asked, "Can't it wait?
There's still snow on the roads, the plows aren't
All through. It'll take me three hours at least
to get there with the roads like this." "Ok,"
he said, "I'll wait." I went to bed an hour,
before he called, "It's an emergency."
The storm had eased as I headed out,
But the wind had been so bad, I had
To stop and climb over the drifts to knock
the snow off signs to see where to go,
a hard dark climb up to Appleton Ridge.
Over three hours to get to a lonely
country farmhouse, light glowing brightly.
Then a man in, I kid you not, a red
Satin smoking jacket comes out and waves.
I think he's waving to me, and wave back,
But it's a garage opener and out of the dark
A door rises, lit like a museum,
A car, glittering white and chrome beauty,
It was a 1954 Mercedes.
A Gull-Wing. You ever heard of them?
I think they only made ten of them.
Its doors lift up like a gull in flight.
I bet it was worth a million dollars.
I ask, "Are you going to take that out?"
"Oh, no, we just got back from Jamaica
I want a jump to make sure it's ok."
It starts like a dream, purrs dangerously.
"Oh good," he says and walks away, waving
his arm to close the door, never saying
a word, left me standing there in the snow.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of American poet James Wright, (books by this author) born in Martins Ferry, Ohio (1927). Wright's hometown was located in a heavily industrialized area of the state that Wright called "my back-broken beloved Ohio." There was a coal mine and a steel mill near his house, and he grew up surrounded by blast furnaces and smoke stacks. During the winter, all the snowdrifts in his town turned black from soot. In the summer, he swam with other boys in the Ohio River, which was full of runoff from the factories that lined the banks. He called the Ohio, "[that] beautiful river, that black ditch of horror."
His father worked at the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company, and Wright took a job at the same factory when he got out of high school. After working there for a few months, he decided that he had to get out of his hometown or it would kill him. So he joined the military, used the GI Bill to study at Kenyon College, and began publishing poetry. It was the poet Robert Bly who encouraged Wright to start writing more personal poetry in free verse. The result was his first great collection, The Branch Will Not Break (1962), which contained many of his most famous poems, including "Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio," "A Blessing," and "Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy's Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota," which ends with the lines, "I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on. / A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home. / I have wasted my life."
It's the birthday of the mystery novelist who wrote under the name Ross Macdonald, born Kenneth Millar in Los Gatos, California (1915) (books by this author) . He was abandoned by his father and his mother gave him up to be raised by a series of relatives. He later said, "I counted the number of rooms I had lived in during my first sixteen years, and got a total of fifty... It was a good background for a novelist, but not for anything else I can think of."
Millar didn't consider going to college until he learned that his father died and left him some money in an insurance policy. And he didn't consider writing as a career until the summer he won a typewriter in a radio quiz show. He wrote a few spy novels that were published, but he wanted to write something serious, drawing on his own background, but whenever he tried to write about his childhood directly, he was embarrassed by the quality of the result.
And then, one day, Millar invented a private investigator named Lew Archer. Millar later said, "I was in trouble, and Lew Archer got me out of it... I couldn't work directly with my own experiences and feelings. A narrator had to be interposed, like protective lead, between me and the radioactive material."
His first Lew Archer novel was The Moving Target (1949), and he went on to write 18 novels featuring Lew Archer, most of them about characters trying to uncover some mystery at the heart of their families, often having to do with lost fathers. His were among the first detective novels to be taken seriously as literature.
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