Friday, July 31, 2015

Who's sitting next to you?

I spent the middle of the day at Big O with a big man I’ll call Big Bill.  He called himself Big Something Else, but maybe I shouldn’t say.

It was not how I planned to spend my day. 

But the right front tire on Mr. Plath’s truck heaved a slow, surreptitious sigh overnight and relaxed into a rubber puddle.  When he dashed out to catch up with his buddy at the BART station for a 12:45 first pitch at AT&T Park, that tire was flat.

“Emergency!” he called up the stairs, since he goes through life with split-second timing and there wasn’t a nanosecond to spare.  “Take me to BART, Honey, and call Triple A to fix this flat, please.”

As an FYI – I plan my mornings more loosely.  They hinge on slow starts with fresh home-made coffee, respectable progress on the Book Club assignment, a few Words with Friends and then some writing.

This is not to say I cannot swing into action when the situation warrants it.  And this was urgent.  BART waits for no one. 

In a flash, I jumped into my clothes, ran a brush through my hair, stepped into my slip-ons and darted to the driveway feeling like Mighty Mouse.  He had my car out of the garage and waiting.  Like a precision racing team, we hit the road.

On the way to the station, Mr. P. sheepishly asked if I would spend some time with the puppy since he’d be gone most of the day.  Sure Honey.  My pleasure.

We executed the drop-off with a quick swing through the bus-only lane – my bad – and he was on his way.  I turned back toward home and the flat tire and the puppy who refers to me as Second Best.

AAA came in due course, but did not fix the flat, or put on the spare.  Instead, the burly tow truck driver with an Elvis complex and a suspiciously visible tattoo high on his right front chest – yes, chest!  I don’t think the lapel of that jumpsuit was tucked in by accident! – pumped up the tire and directed me to take the truck to Big-O to get it fixed. 

Thank you.  Thank you very much.

But Big-O’s good, in case you don’t already know it.  Their tire?  They’ll fix it.  Free.

But of course you have to get in line.  That’s where Big Bill comes in. 

I’ll tell you how I first felt about Big Bill:  I didn’t want to talk to him.  Oh – he’s not the Big O guy who greeted me immediately, ascertained the problem, took the keys to the truck and deftly worked me into the queue. 

No, Big Bill was a stranger.  A big man with a purple ear who came in after me and distinguished himself with his deep voice, not upset but frustrated, he said, at having to spend so much time in the Big O lobby. 

Great.  And the only empty chair was next to mine.

I tried to shine him on at first.  I smiled tepidly when he eased himself down next to me saying he was tired of the mysterious problem that kept resurfacing with his valve stem.

He shifted in his seat.  He watched shamelessly as I worked a crossword puzzle on my phone.  “Boy, you’ve got good eyesight to see something that small.  Can’t you make those letters bigger?”

Another meek acknowledgement.  But before I knew it, he caught my eye.  Maybe people would be calling my dad ‘Big Roy’ if he were still around. 

I considered telling Bill his ear was purple, but he told me first.  The medication for an irritation in his ear – side effect of his hearing aid.  It stained his pillowcase too. 

Oh?  So I’d been in education? 

He was in medicine.  Radiology.  Thirty-seven years.  Retired from Kaiser twice – went back a while when they were short-handed.  Ran a walnut orchard and orange tree farm at the same time he was reading X-rays.  Same amount of water.  Same fertilizer.  Made good sense.

He knew Matt Cain pitched last night and Jake Peavy was pitching today.  We both like Brandon Crawford.

Oh?  The truck’s ready?  Nice to meet you, Big Bill. 

Very nice to meet you.