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One minute my daughter and I are driving home from Nashville, somewhere outside of Louisville, pretty much in the middle of nowhere on I71. The next minute we’re in a tow truck being driven back to Cincinnati by a very big man with short cropped red hair, huge arms, and muscular shoulders. Let’s put it this way, he was not a person that I would want to meet in a dark alley. Sitting next to him for two hours could be uncomfortable but since I like talking with people I don’t know, I was okay with it and so was my daughter.

We had ended up here because my car had starting signaling “low engine pressure,” as we drove down a winding hill. Somehow it didn’t seem like a good idea to see just how far my car would go at 8:00p.m on a Sunday night.

We felt blessed that the Speedway gas station was off to our immediate right as my car began to sputter. Wow, I was glad that I had recently upgraded my card and that my car would be hauled on a tow truck to Cincinnati, all expenses covered.

We were standing outside, while he eased my car on to his truck. It was cold and dark outside now. The wind was whipping around empty styrofoam cups by the gas pumps.

“You can get in,” he said to my daughter and I. “It’s warm in the truck.”

“Thanks,” we somehow hoisted ourselves in. I was in the middle with the stick shift between my legs, but I was happy as a clam. The truck was warm; thank goodness we were headed back home on this cold night.

Once we started the drive, I decided to start the conversation with him. Break the ice as they say.

“Did you ever have someone that you drove for a couple of hours that never said a word all the way there?”

“Ah, sure, I have people that are up against the door.”

My daughter and I laughed at that image. How was leaning against the door going 75 miles an hour going to help them? I wondered.

“Did you ever have people that are nuts?“ I asked him.

He got kind of quiet for a minute. “Sure, I have. A few weeks ago, I picked up a drunk guy and his girlfriend. He started cussing at her and she took a swing at him. It missed the boyfriend and hit me in the eye. I said to them, ‘Here’s where you get off,’ and I left him and his girlfriend on the highway.”

When I heard this story, at first I felt sorry for the two of them being left on the highway, and then I didn’t feel sorry for them at all. I was proud of the tow truck driver for dumping them off. He doesn’t deserve to be hit in the eye.  Who knows what could have happened next.

“That’s why I always carry a gun,” he said. “You have to have a gun cause you never know.”

I found myself wondering where he stored it.

“I work hard,” he said. “I take the shifts that no one wants, the ones where you have to drive people far out of town,” and he added, ‘I don’t like Cincinnati much. I was mugged there. This guy walked up to me and held a gun to my head and then I saw there were two men behind him.”

I looked at my daughter and she looked at me.

“Mind if I smoke?” he asked.

“Yes, I do,” I said, “but if you want to stop somewhere that’s fine.”

“It’s going to be a long ride,” he said.

Then I got a bit worried. I didn’t think he’d drop us off on the highway, but it’s one of those developments in a relationship where you hit your first bump in the road and you’re not sure where it’s headed.

After that, the truck went silent except for the radio playing Brad Paisley’s song, “She’s Everything.” Right before it got too awkward and we became the passengers up against the door, he said, “Did you ever eat at Penn Station? I like that place a lot.”

“It’s really good,” I said.

My daughter said, “I love the chicken teriyaki!”

“I love the fries,” I added.

“I think I’m going to get me one of those on my way home,” he said.

Then we turned down the road towards the auto dealer and there was a Penn Station lit up in a dark strip mall.

“There’s a Penn Station,” I said pointing.

“That’s great,” he said.

He pulled up to the car dealer. My daughter and I climbed out of the truck. I gave him a generous tip and thanked up for taking us all the way here. We had enjoyed talking to him.

My friend Mike’s was waiting in his car to take us home. As we drove away, my daughter and I looked over at the strip mall and saw the tow truck outside of Penn Station.