Monday, October 29, 2012

It could have been worse

"The only thing that could make this day any better, is if the truck broke down," Photographer Mike DeBernardo, hisses ironcially after a hard afternoon on the road.  He and I are assigned difficult story about the Vice-Principal of Vernal Middle School accused of sex crimes against a juvenile member of his family.

David Papadakos, accused of sex crimes
In addition to the distasteful subject matter, to do the story, we must drive 173 miles to Uintah County, some 3 hours and 30 minutes away.

As our deadline approaches we are plagued with mechanical and technical issues, all the gizmos in the live truck (I won't pretend to act like I know how they work) keep dying, thanks  to a lack of power.  My computer is also on the fritz, making it difficult to track down the mugshot of the vice principal accused of the crime.

We are able to get our story on the air at 10 PM but, cannot establish our live presence in Vernal.  As we shut down the systems, pack away the lights, and prepare for our long slog home, Mike is peeved by the inability to "make," our live shot, and that's when he utters those now fateful words,  "The only thing that could make this day any better, is if the truck broke down."

When the words float out of his mouth, I say what everyone says when someone utters something like that, "famous last words."

At 11:30 PM those "famous last words," begin to flash before our eyes,  as Mike engages his bright beams, as we barrel down a dark and frigid highway 40 just outside of Duchesne, the scratchy song on the radio, buzzes off.  The gauges begin to spin and whirl wildly, like the dials on a futuristic machine in a sci-fi movie, then relent before keeling over to the left.  According to our dashboard monitors, we are careening across the pavement at zero miles an hour, with zero gallons of gas in our tank, and zero oil pressure to propel us back home. "Are the lights dimming?" I squint into the darkness, as the once brightly illuminated pavement is now just a dull, slight yellow, quickly disappearing before our eyes.
It only takes a handful of minutes for our truck to follow the cue of the dials, and, with engine choked to death, we slowly drift along the gravel shoulder to a silent pause, 10 miles from the nearest town, and 2 hours from home in Salt Lake City.
"Well, you got your wish," I sing to Mike, as we sit, stranded, the temperature, dropping quickly, a he engages the hazard lights.  "Click, clack, click, clack," the ticking, keeping the monotone, heartless beat of our dark isolation.

"It's going to take the tow truck 2 hours to get here," Mike looks at the ceiling of the truck as he silences his phone with a finger tap   "Thank goodness, we have cell service," or we'd be screwed," I add, "I might have been forced to kill and eat you." I joke, "well," Mike interjects as he scrolls Facebook on his smartphone, "it's still early."

It doesn't take long for the temperature to drop inside the cabin of our truck.  It's about 25 degrees along this lonely stretch of highway.  After about 2 hours, we watch our smoky breath, prompted by the fridgid temperatures, float out of our mouths as we begin playing the futile game, I call:  "Oh, there he is, finally!"    Every 10 minutes or so, we spot the tiny flash of headlights in the distance, to which one of us will, say, mostly hoping that our words, will somehow manifest our tow truck, "Oh there he is, finally,"  When the Semi or sleepy traveler  rumbles past us, the second part of the game is to curse the driver and his vehicle for NOT being the tow truck driver.  This goes on for about an hour, and I have to say is a lot of fun, particularly when you get to hurdle obscenities into the night at perfect strangers who have no inkling of your presence.

"Oh there he is, finally!"  I shout, waiting for the payoff, of cursing him as he drives by, but wait, that really IS him."

The  tow truck driver is a waking fire plug, stout and burly with a shaved head.  Despite his gruff exterior, he's actually very kind.  As we watch him jack the heavy white live truck onto the flatbed truck, he encourages, "Go get in the cab, you must be freezing."

After some small talk, (he went to East High, graduated in 1996,) Mike and I both doze off, only to be awaken by the heavy downshift of the truck, as we cascade around a dog leg turn, I open my eyes to see a row of deer, frozen in our path, unable to move as three tons of metal march on them, our driver pumps his breaks, and lays on his horn, within about 5 feet, the startled creatures gather themselves and scamper out of our unstoppable path.  "whoa," I breath, "That was close," "yeah," the driver pants, "that scared me."  I ask, wouldn't we have just shoved them out of the way, to which he answers, "No, this cab is made of fiberglass, We'd of been stranded out here."

Thirty minutes later, my head gently resting against the cold passenger side window, my body is vibrated to attention, and my ears ring with what sounds like a thousand duffle bags being opened one after another with rhythmic succession.  Our exhausted truck driver has drifted to sleep, and the truck has in turn, floated gently across the highway rumple strips.  "As I shoot a look at him, he blurts with eyes wide, "sorry!"

As the truck grinds to a stop in front of my house, at 4 AM, I give both men a weary nod and fumble into the darkness of my warm bedroom.  Despite what seemed at the time , to be a disaster of a night, I click off all the things that COULD have gone wrong but didn't (no cell service, subzero temperatures, plowing into a family of deer, careening off the highway into an icy stream) and I mumble to myself, as I shed my coat, "heck, that wasn't so bad."

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