I had just returned home to Texas after a several year stint in California; I was eager to start my professional career and hungry to pay my own way. Seriously, hungry...starving. As a young adult, I killed any minor food cravings with cigarettes and soda so I whipped into the local 7-Eleven on my way to meet a friend for lunch. I was also a young woman dead-set on being vain, so obviously I wouldn't actually be eating lunch; therefore, I was going to need that caffeine/nicotine cocktail.
As I hadn't found the funding to pay for a car of my own yet, I had borrowed my mother's hand-me-down '77 Buick. Ah, just the thing to make any girl feel less-than: it was white with strategically placed rust spots and the once green material top had long ago faded and peeled so that it flapped in the wind like a drunk waving at a parade any time you managed to get the old girl up to 35 mph. But still, it was a ride and I was heading to meet a long-time friend I hadn't seen in a while.
Mason Road was the main thoroughfare and quite busy during the lunch time hour, but I nonetheless found a parking spot. I gingerly spun the steering wheel, eased in to the spot, pressed the brake and then all hell broke loose. My foot, clad in a new pair of un-scuffed heels (girls, explain this to the men please), winged right off the brake and slammed on the gas. Hard.
Before I knew it, Ol' Bess had reared up like she'd been kicked in the flank and surged through the extremely large plate glass window of the BBQ shop I had attempted to park in front of, taking out the small brick wall that housed it as well.
I jammed the car in to Park and immediately jumped out, taking note of all the people that had literally stopped in their tracks at the demolition job I'd just completed. I spied the pay phone on the wall just to the right of the wreckage and made a dash for it, doing the only thing I knew to do.
I took a huge breath as she picked up, steadying my nerves. "Mom, I forgot to ask this morning, do you have insurance on the car?"
"Well, yes, I do honey, it's in the...Tracie Michelle, what have you done?" I could hear the panic rise in her voice, though her tone was hushed in her office.
"Seriously, mom, I just wanted to make sure the car was covered before I headed out." 'Of the window' I did not add.
My mother was fairly screaming by now. "What did you do? What did you do?"
Just then a large shadow crept into the space I'd taken to staring at on the sidewalk. As I brought my eyes upwards, I found myself looking at the tallest cowboy wearing the most stern expression I'd ever seen. I stared wide-eyed and panicked, my mother's voice a mere noise in the background as he slowed his stroll to a halt in front of me, his fingers gingerly sliding into the tops of his jeans pockets.
He cocked one hip out and shifted his stance. "Ma'am, is this your car?" He drawled, a slight nod of his head in the direction of the Buick firmly encased in the restaurant.
"What?! Who is that? Why is he asking about the car?" My mother's voice had risen another octave in my ear.
"Sir," I began hesitantly, "is that your restaurant?"
"Yes ma'am, it is." He answered.
"Then, no sir, it's not." I replied. I hadn't actually lied - it was, after all, my mother's car.
"I gotta go, mom." I all but whispered into the phone. "I accidentally drove the car into Nonmacher's BBQ joint." Before I hung up, I heard her re-assure me she was on her way. I just prayed she didn't stop for cigarettes on the way.
I walked with John over to the police car that had appeared along with countless bystanders and quite a few old classmates that I hadn't seen in in years. Luckily, John knew the cop and offered him a sandwich while we waited for the tow truck. Not that we needed one, but the officer explained it was better for the right people to 'extract' the car.
As the burly tow truck driver slowly backed the car out of the now-vacant window space, we noticed a large table overturned on it's side, the round tabletop facing outward, as though to shield some children playing cowboys and indians.
"Well, at least there's no real damage to the insides and no one got hurt." John said on an exhale while I stood at his side, still shaking in my shiny black patent pumps. "C'mon inside, young lady. Would you like a drink or a sandwich?" I shook my head as he ushered me and the policeman towards the still standing door.
Just then a man stood up abruptly from behind the overturned table.
"Well, Bill!" John exclaimed to the patron. "You still got a-hold of your sandwich." He pointed out, nodding to the half-eaten sandwich firmly set in Bill's grip.
"I just figured if it was gonna be my last, John, I was gonna do my best to finish it."
That day I learned a lesson, announced my return, saw my mom smoke for the first time in years, got a job, left an enduring mark on my hometown and above all, made a friend.
Years later, I ran into Nonmacher's and excitedly told John I'd had a daughter. He smiled broadly before his face dropped in to a somber expression and as he laid his hand on my shoulder, he requested: "Please let her daddy teach her how to drive."
God love you, John, for being such a forgiving and understanding man. I love you, John, for keeping your calm.