Sunday, August 5, 2012

Boy Stepping Up

I had an idea for this week’s post but, sometimes, life hands you a little something and says “Write about this instead.” So, that’s what I’m doing. The other will keep.

My son, Dru, considers himself a computer science nerd. Maybe he is, I don’t know. But I think he’s too cute for that and I am absolutely sure this assessment is unbiased and correct.

Dru is about to start his junior year of college. When he was in high school, he had to take a practical art. Others took Marketing and cool stuff like that. Dru decided to go for Auto Mechanics, which was offered in an out-building on the edge of campus as part of the Vo-Tech program.

This class had a personality all its own. Dru could tell right away he would’ve been better off if he’d belonged to a gang, or spoken in some kind of slang that only slightly resembled English. At a minimum, he needed to let his pants slide down just a tad before he walked into class.

The semester passed. Dru learned to keep his mouth shut and to come and go as blandly as he could manage, hoping not to make eye contact or, God forbid, brush up against someone and make him mad. 

Then came the first exam. On that day, when he walked into class, Dru noticed no one else had taken a seat. As he settled himself at a table in the middle of the room, there was a rush of pushing, and even a little bit of shoving, to get to the seats around him. During the test, Dru could feel eyes spying from every direction. He chuckled to himself. There is always a way to break in. So, he did nothing. He didn't cover his work, or move his seat, or tell the teacher. He took his test, knowing his answers were being copied and spread around the room via some network that had come to life. He knew his test paper would be replicated as many times as there were students in the room. For not turning them in, or shutting them out, he became cool. He was one of them—sort of.

After that day, there was a new respect, an unspoken allegiance. There was no longer a concern about being duct-taped to a chair, or having his lunch run through the parts washer again. In the main hall, auto mechanics guys stepped up when thugs tried to mess with Dru. And, for each test, his classmates waited until Dru had been seated, then sat down themselves. By the end of the semester, Dru was still alive and the others had passed the course.

With his practical art out of the way, Dru returned to being a math and science geek. I dare say he never again had a wrench in hand, or even looked under the hood of his car.

This past May, Dru drove from Virginia to New England and, from there, flew to Asia to travel for the summer. Last week, I met him at my mom’s house on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire to help him drive his car home.  Our trip was uneventful until we were on the stretch of Rt. 84 that goes from New York into Pennsylvania, through the Pocono Mountains.

The last vestige of civilization was, ironically, a huge prison, surrounded by a rather formidable barbed wire fence that was dotted with even more formidable looking guard towers. After passing the prison, we disappeared into the wilderness. No exits. No gas stations. Certainly, no lights. I’m talkin’ nothing. I might mention there was practically no cell service, either.

As I clipped along at 75 mph in the fast lane, there came that dreaded loud noise that can only mean something really shitty is wrong with your car. I pulled to the edge. There was a steep drop-off on the right shoulder, so we could barely clear the lane. Dru got out to see what was going on. His countenance slumped as he looked at the left rear tire. “It’s all gone. There is no tire…only the wheel,” came the grim report.

A blow-out. You hear about them. You see remnants of tread lying alongside the highway. But, by and large, blow-outs are for trucks. You don’t expect to have to deal with them yourself.

It was 7:30 at night. The sun had already set. In minutes, the Poconos would be ensconced in total darkness. We surveyed the situation. Fortunately, there was a cut-through in the median just opposite us. We scampered across the zipping highway on our three tires and a rim, so we could pull off the active road to safety. Now, when I say safety, I mean from oncoming traffic. This is not to imply any immunity from escaped convicts who might happen along, or wild animals, or the mighty upset of being holed up in the mountainous dark, broken down, with no way to reach anyone.

As I readied myself for the fetal position, maybe a little thumb sucking, Dru hopped out and took over. He found the spare tire and the jack and the lug wrench, all of which were secreted away in places I didn't know existed in the car. The jack was so small it looked like a toy, but there it was cranking the entire vehicle up off the ground. Just as I thought we might be okay, Dru realized he needed a special tool to remove the fifth lug nut, the one meant to prevent theft, but which also prevents you from changing your own tire unless you've got the tool. Where might it be in a ten-year-old car? We unloaded everything onto the pavement and searched. With only moments of daylight left, we found the thing buried among old trading cards and sunglasses and all the junk that usually fills a guy's messy glove box.

I'd never realized how much strength it takes to get a tire off. Dru had to muscle up more than once, and I heard a few grunts and groans as he wrestled with parts that didn't want to be moved. When did the boy get so buff? Where did my little nerd go? Just as daylight slipped behind the mountains, the spare was on and tools had been returned to their secret compartments. Dru ordered me into the car and then drove us out onto the highway, delivering us back into the passing lanes of life-not-in-distress.

Suddenly, my boy was a man. He had taken charge and saved us. I was still wallowing in thoughts like we could have been killed during the blow-out, or necessary tools could so easily have been lacking. It could have happened an hour later in the pitch of dark. And, dare I mention it?...escaped cons could have come and had their way with us. While I was playing the damsel in distress, he was taking care of business.
So, the moral of my post is, Thank God for strapping young men and, let's face it, for Auto Mechanics classes. And, also, be sure you've got the tool that removes the fifth lug nut.


  1. LOVE this! Favorite line, "The passing lanes of life-not-in-distress."

  2. There is that wonderful moment when you realize the little kid is all gwod-up. Dru grew through adversity high and low and has turned into what every mother dreams of: a responsible young man with manners and a take-charge attitude. You are both to be commended.

  3. Something to be said for being able to wield a spanner.
    Nice story.

  4. Your Dad just told me where that secret little special wrench is in our car. I'm not sure I'd be able (and I mean able at age 74) to use it; but at least I know where it is.