When I drive in the rain, I usually have to pull over. This is because my truck tires are almost bald, they slip in heavy rain.
You might not care about this, but I bought these tires just before a road trip to Savannah, Georgia. And at the time, they were all I could afford.
I was about to take a job, writing for a small magazine, right after I graduated college—I was a thirty-year-old man when I graduated.
It was a big deal for me. A big, big deal. I could hardly afford the trip, but I wanted to be a writer, so:
“Look out, Savannah.”
I paid two hundred bucks for tires that were supposed to get me there. They were missing most of their treads, but the price was right. I bought them at a secondhand tire shop. The owner was Russian.
He said: “These be very okay tires, but you no drive in rain or you die.”
So on the way to Savannah, I pulled over at a Citgo station when it started raining.
A man stood beneath the awning, smoking a cigarette. He had wrinkled skin, he wore denim and boots. He was a carbon copy of the people I come from. Steelworking men who dangle from iron beams with little more in their hearts than family and cuss words.
There was a little girl with him, nine or ten, maybe. She was watching the rain. The girl was his granddaughter.
She was out of school for a doctor’s appointment. Her parents couldn’t get off work, so he drove three hours from Nashville to take her.
“When this rain lets up,” he said. “I’m dropping her off and heading back to Nashville for work. I’m working overtime tonight.”
Age sixty-seven. Still working overtime. Driving six hours, roundtrip,
in one day.
His story wasn’t unlike the tales of my people. He grew up poor. He skipped high school, he worked on cars with his brother beneath oak trees.
Then, he got an opportunity to apprentice in ironwork—which might not sound like a big opportunity to you, but to our kind, it’s like winning an Oscar. He became a welder.
“Even done me some underwater welding,” he went on. “Money was real good, but it’s hard on my back.”
He’d been saving paychecks ever since his first job. He saved them for his children and grandchildren. I know men like this. Their family is their religion.
“When this here girl gets older,” he said, “I want her to go to college.”
I have a sudden memory: I was sitting in the garage with my father—a stick welder who never went to college. I remember grease on his face. I remember watching the rain through an open garage door.
Daddy leaned backward in a chair and said: “I want you to go to college, son. I want you to make something of yourself, and do me proud.”
After he died, I disappointed him. I didn’t attend high school until later in my adult life. And college took me a long time. A long, long time.
The rain let up.
The old man lit one more cigarette. Then, he loaded his granddaughter into the truck. Oxygen tanks were mounted on his bumper. Hoses swinging. And the welder was gone.
I looked at a gray sky and talked to it. “I’m a writer now,” I told the sky. “I write stuff I think you would like.”
Savannah, Georgia, awaited. And as fate would have it, the measley job wouldn’t amount to anything more than a blip in my unimpressive career. But none of that mattered. Not really. Because maybe, just maybe, I was doing a dead man proud.
Maybe I still am.
It’s funny. I still drive on those tires.
They’ve lasted longer than I thought they would.