Last week one of the guys I work with was in a terrible car accident while coming back from his lunch break. The newspaper the next day had a horrifying picture of the wreckage, a caption about one person - whose name wasn't released - going to the hospital, and a headline that read "The Perils of Drunk Driving." What we learned that very afternoon, within hours, was this:
First the daughter of the owner of Cross Auto Supply called and said "Tell the delivery drivers not to take Finley Curve, there's been a really bad wreck." At this point we didn't know that the wreck involved one of our own, just that we didn't want our drivers to burn up all their gas sitting around in some traffic jam.
Then Gary came in to count out his drawer and tell us that Richard had gotten in an accident, the one on Finley Curve. It wasn't until later that we learned how the news got to the shop. Brad is a part time delivery driver, Brad's dad is a police officer in Pottsville, a town a couple miles down the road. Brad's dad was called to Russellville to help direct traffic. When he arrived he realized that Richard was wearing a Cross Auto Supply shirt and called Mike, the manager, who then went to the hospital.
Mike kept checking in. He said that they would not talk to him since he was not family, but that the doctor kept coming out asking for a family member, which we took as a bad sign and as a call to arms. We would find a family member. Richard's file listed his wife as his emergency contact. She, however, died some years ago. Trish turned to me. "Who do we know?" I don't know anybody, so I left it up to her to play six degrees of Richard Armstrong. She contacted the owner of the shop, and his daughter, both of whom searched the memory of their cell phones for anyone who might be related to Richard. We knew he had a daughter in Little Rock, and a brother here in Russellville. Get the brother and you've got the family.
Richard is a war hero. He was in Vietnam and once, after a particularly bad battle, he was the only man left standing out of his whole platoon. He lives his life like a soldier. He's the one who empties the trash at work, at the same time every day, commenting on the candy wrappers so often that I've started to kind of bury them under other trash to avoid the humiliation of being called out on my boredom snacking. When you have a phone call he'll come stand over you, get the extension number off of your phone, and with great ceremony, transfer the call, with a staccato "hmm," and leave the office. I'm the one who counts the money from everyones drawer in the morning. Everyone else just kind of throws their money in their bag. Richard has his paper clipped together with the adding machine tape using only gold paper clips, and it balances to the penny every day. He takes care of his aging father. He's always having to take off work to go make sure he's eaten and check his medication and all of that. And he's always upset that his brother never helps him.
I'm not sure how it happened. I think Richard started coming around in the hospital and gave up the brother's number. Mike called us and one of the guys up front called the brother, who said he would get dressed (it was about 2 PM at this time), feed his cats, and get to the hospital.
Throughout the day news trickled in from various tow truck operators, body shops, and mechanics. In the automotive industry, a bad wreck is big news, everybody knows everybody else, and most people have a police scanner. By the next morning, before the picture and caption in the paper even ran, this is what we learned through word-of-mouth, networking, and eavesdropping: Richard was on his was to the shop after his lunch break. He was coming around the inside lane of a particularly dangerous curve ("Finley Curve") in his Camry when a drunk illegal immigrant from Mexico cut into his lane in his Tahoe and hit him head on. According to who you hear it from the impact could have been equivalent to 120 MPH or 60 MPH. The Tahoe pretty much just drove completely over the Camry. Both cars were totaled. The Camry was reduced to tiny pieces of crumpled metal. The immigrant walked away from the wreck, or rather, ran away and tried to hide in a nearby house. The police caught him and he's in jail now after a sobriety test. Richard was rushed to the hospital, then med-flighted to Little Rock due to concerns about "this area," Mike had said gesturing to his chest. He had a broken pelvis, hip, and ankle. Mike also said that his entire right arm was black and swollen.
This all happened last week. Richard is doing much better, still has a long way to go, but the latest is that the internal bleeding has stopped, he's had ankle surgery, and he was sitting in a chair talking to his daughter today. His brother came by the shop to pick up Richard's cell phone charger. Today was the first time most of us had seen the wayward brother. He looked exactly like Richard. His hair was a little longer, a little shaggier. He was a little scruffier, unshaven. I can't remember what he was really wearing, but in my memory it was one of those hippie-looking knit jackets. But when he talked, it was Richard. After he left I kind of turned to Trish and shook my head. "I don't know what to say. It's like they both started out like this," I said, holding my hands in front of me, palm to palm, to indicate two identical roads leading in the same direction, "and then Richard joined the army and his brother dodged the draft," and the hands go out to either side. At lunch we were all talking about Richard and worrying about how his Dad was getting along without him there to take care of him. Mike said that Richard's brother had told him that he and his dad were going out to eat every day. "He said 'Dad just says he want to go out!'" So they go out. We all kind of looked at each other and laughed. We're missing Richard. Everyone has worked there so long that when one person is gone everyone else gets kind of tripped up. Today I had to clean the bathroom. Trish had to mop. These were things that Richard just did. We didn't think about them. I know that he'll be gone for a while, he might even choose to go ahead and retire. It's pretty different around the shop and while I do enjoy reckless, guilt-free snacking, I also miss having Richard around and so does everyone else. And we all got emergency information forms to fill out with our last paychecks.