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Greg was grimacing when I walked toward his rollback tow truck, its end already dipping at an angle toward the badly mangled bow of my Prius. Just 20 minutes earlier, the pointy little silver car—"Future Car," a friend once called it; "awkward," I'd always preferred—had been zipping down Interstate 40, quiet and efficient as always. About 120 hours later, though, it would be pronounced my first "total loss" by an insurance adjuster I'd never met.

Greg—tall and square in the shoulders, with dark hair and tan skin that suggested he'd done this before—had every right to grimace: The midafternoon sun reflecting from the blacktop made us both squint, and the exhaust from the several hundred cars passing by every minute (slowly, onlooker delay being what it is) made us both sweat. I had become one of those drivers. You know, the ones stranded in the median of an eight-lane road, standing beside a car that no one will ever drive again, busily calling the people whom people call in emergencies. And when I hit the guardrail and spun back into traffic, I'd caused the traffic jam he'd fought just so he could haul my now useless piece of metal to a junkyard. How many times had he dealt with "me" today? This week? This year? I'd grimace, too.

But Greg wasn't irritated. Rather, he was saddened that I'd lost my car, that we'd met this way. He frowned and said he was sorry, looking me in the eyes as he did both. When the car was on the truck, safely above traffic, he climbed back in to grab my belongings. He patted me on the shoulder and told me to be careful getting in his truck. Wrecks happen every minute, but Greg made it feel as if this one actually mattered.

When we merged into traffic, Greg asked me what happened. A car had swerved far into my lane and pushed me toward the median until my tires hit old pavement. I lost control, hit the rail and spun around. "Well, didn't that guy stop?" Greg asked, his lips pursed, his jaw locked. He sensed the answer before I could reply. "Oh, that fucking sucks, man," he offered. For five minutes, he railed against people's lack of responsibility, mustering the kind of indignation that, still sheepish from the blow, I couldn't. Again, he said it all as if for the first time.

On Monday morning, I drove to Greg's lot to retrieve the rest of my belongings—CDs, Mason jars, clothes. As I strolled to the gate with four empty trash bags, Greg was backing his truck to the other gate, another fresh mess strapped to the bed of his truck. He leaned out of the window, smiled and called me by name. Then he turned, pointed at my Prius and moaned: "She looks real bad today."

If Greg hadn't mentioned it, I don't think I would have noticed. But he was right. The damage was worse than I'd remembered. That's when it became clear that the frown and the anger hadn't been part of a job. He cared about my car and, ultimately, everyone giving a damn about everyone else.

  • I had become one of those drivers.

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