Who Was Actually in Hell?

I’ve dropped into hell. You’d love it.

I got this text message as I was sitting in a sanitized lobby, waiting for a client meeting. As sure as I was that I was surrounded by juicy and intriguing stories, this was of no comfort to me today. I was not here to pry these secrets from the people walking by, practically sweating their words from their pores. I was there to discuss a project that, in the big scheme of things, was completely insignificant. Those delicious secrets would stay wrapped up in ties, slacks and shoes…the uniform that would remind everyone where they were after all.

I was on my way to a meeting, in heels and business clothes, when the truck I was driving began smoking and died along the side of the freeway the day before. It was about 10,000 degrees on the asphalt and there was no easy way for me to remove myself from the situation on foot. I hid the key in the truck, called the insurance company to arrange for the tow and then my sister to come take me home (Tina was in a meeting over an hour away). This is apparently not how it goes. Leaving your vehicle opens you up to all kinds of issues. Which is why, a full day and a half later, Tina is sitting for nearly three hours in the lobby of an impound lot waiting for the tow truck to finally arrive.

The woman in here has been yelling at me the whole time I have been here.

I have no idea why Tina thinks I would love to be in her shoes, apart from the fact that I am wishing like crazy that I could spare her the torture of her situation. When I get the text message above I cringe and cannot imagine how I am going to manage to keep my composure through the next three hours of meetings…meetings about nothing.

The woman here is threatening to go to lunch before the tow truck gets here.

As I wait, I am getting these texts AND a myriad of phone calls from the insurance company, who is arranging our tow (why was the vehicle on the side of the road again?), the tow truck driver (does the lot require us to have an SPD license?) and a dozen or so recorded messages continually adjusting the time when the driver will be at the lot. No matter how many time I give them Tina’s number, she is at the lot with the truck after all, they continue to call me. This keeps me in a state of high alert.

Mean woman starting to feel sorry for me.

At dinner, Tina tells me about the afternoon and I understand why I got the first message from her. She was sitting in the middle of a colorful story, characters running through the scene, dropping dialogue that would be hard to produce convincingly on a stage.

Lot Manager (glaring): Who’s that you’re talking to?

Tina (timidly in the corner of the room): The insurance company. They say they have been trying to call you.

Lot Manager (narrowing eyes): Well, I’ve been sitting here the whole time and the phone ain’t rung, so they ain’t called me, have they?

Tina: Can you talk to them on my phone?

Lot Manager: I ain’t talking to no one that don’t call me on this phone!

(Tina confirms number and asks them to try again. Phone rings in the office)

Lot Manager: Hello? Well you know I gotta have that ______ form before they can pick it up. It don’t matter, I still gotta have it. That just don’t matter, if I don’t have the form, I can’t release the truck. (hangs up the phone)

Over the two and a half hours that Tina shares an office with this woman and assorted drivers, she begins to learn about them. She witnesses one side of gentle private conversations the lot manager has with a child on the other end. She hears the same woman defend one of the drivers who is apparently not treated well by the others. And, as she fingers one of the two bibles perched prominently on her desk, she casually tosses some unexpectedly gentle nudging into the conversations.

Driver: He don’t share nothing of his and he comes in every day and just helps himself to our cokes. He brings just enough for himself and looks at you like you crazy if you ask him to share…but he just helps himself.

Lot Manager: Has he ever been any different?

Driver: Not a single time.

Lot Manager: Well then, you gotta forgive him, don’t you?

Tina’s right. I would have loved it. I would have been scribbling notes like mad on scraps of paper had I been there. As it was, I was absorbed in her telling of the story, even in the scant detail of someone who does not hold a story on her tongue like the delicious melting of dark chocolate. I can taste enough of the detail to wish it had been me there. To wish that those two and a half hours had unfolded for me, layer by layer, as it had for her.


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