Editor's note: This column originally ran Dec. 3, 2005.
This column is a tribute to those unsung heroes of the open road: tow-truck drivers.
And in particular, to a certain tow truck driver named Travis. But that’s how my story ends, so let me go to the beginning.
There are lots of professionals who serve in the world of emergencies and are fittingly hailed as heroes — police officers, firefighters, emergency room nurses.
But there are other folks, too, who handle emergency calls that you don’t think about until you need them, like tow truck drivers.
The day before Thanksgiving our little family of four (husband, wife, 10-year-old daughter and Brittany spaniel) was headed down Interstate 68 to my in-laws in Maryland. My husband has made this 11-hour, 735-mile drive many times.
It was snowing quite heavily just outside Frostburg, Md., when it happened. There was loud sound — and then a bang — and then the car took on a definite tilt. My husband skillfully drove the car off the road, getting us out of the way of oncoming highway traffic. Nobody was hurt.
He looked at me. I looked at him.
“Did the tire just come off the car?”
“Where is it?”
“Probably bouncing its way to grandma’s house by now.”
“What’d we hit?”
“Not sure. A turkey trying to escape tomorrow’s dinner?”
We had 100 miles to go. It was 8 p.m. and snowing heavily. We were off the highway, but not by much. Semi-trailers and snow plows were racing by, perilously close to the car. Sprays of snow and slush showered down on the doors and roof. The driver’s side door was jammed shut.
We called for roadside assistance and peered into the darkness. It would be nearly two hours until the tow truck arrived, and I don’t mind telling you, the traffic zooming by was making me nervous.
When we saw the flashing yellow lights atop a huge tow truck approaching us, the 10-year-old cried out, “We’re saved!”
A smiling young man in his mid-20s bounded out. “Everyone safe? Let’s get you out of the car and into the cab!”
There was a high-anxiety moment when it occurred to me that perhaps the dog would not be allowed to ride with us. But the young man, who said his name was Travis, assured us customer service was his priority.
“Pets are like some people’s kids,” he said. “Even gave a guy a ride with his pet snake once.” (The snake had its own travel carrier cage.)
The cab had a backseat to accommodate us all. From the warm and safety of the truck, we watched Travis quickly go about his work.
Despite the snow and the dangerously close traffic, he climbed under the car to hook up the chains. When a trucker, who could’ve easily moved to the other lane, splashed snow on him, Travis said nothing but shook his head.
A state police officer pulled up, and after a brief conversation with Travis, drove away.
“That’s my brother,” he said. “I told him you’re OK.”
Once the car was loaded, we began the final leg of our journey and I let out a sigh of relief. The tension was over; I now turned over all responsibility to Travis.
It’s a stressful job, driving a tow truck. It’s emergency work, dealing with upset or angry drivers, trying to manipulate damaged, heavy vehicles and sometimes assisting police and ambulance crews in accident sites. Not to mention the hours. Travis had already put in a full day when he got our call. He would probably arrive back home just as his wife was putting the turkey in the oven.
Our story could’ve had 100 different bad endings — injury or even death to our family or to others. But thanks to answered prayers, and thanks to a tow truck driver, this ending was a happy one.