To this day I’m not really sure what happened that night.
I was finishing late and I was pooped. Twice a day visits were great for revenue, but tough on the body. These visits were typically for dogs who were confined indoors and needed to be walked, or for dogs who were let out in the yard during the day and confined in the house at night. Unless I wanted to clean up a mess and/or have some explaining to do with the client, I had to get up early and finish late to care for these dogs. This night, I had just walked and locked in a friendly Great Dane. He had to stay in the house at night or else the neighbor would complain about barking.
I was driving through Redwood City towards the 101 freeway entrance. Yawning, I looked around me at the evening street scene. Well dressed couples dined on Mexican food in an outdoor patio strung with lights shaped like chiles. Rougher-looking folks in jeans and work boots stood outside the small local bar smoking cigarettes and talking loudly to each other. Men walked out of the corner liquor store with paper bags filled with the night’s entertainment. I smiled to myself as I remembered a friend telling me that they sold badly-copied VHS tapes of porn movies from under the counter.
Leaving downtown, I approached the railroad tracks which were dark and deserted. I started to cross them when WHAM, something hit me from the left. Reeling in confusion, I started to panic when I realized that whatever hit me was now dragging me along the tracks. It wasn’t a train – in fact it wasn’t anything I could see. Some invisible thing was dragging my truck along in the dark. After what seemed like an eternity but was probably only a few seconds, it ended. The thing that hit me rolled on along the tracks and left me parallel to them. Stunned, I sat there wondering what to do when I saw a man running up to my window. Assuming he was coming to help me, I rolled down the window, and was startled when he unleashed a string of expletives.
“What the **** are you doing?”
“You stupid ****ing bitch! What were you doing? Didn’t you see us?”
I started to get scared. Someone ranting like this wouldn’t have been a surprise coming from the bar or the residential hotel, but I was too far away for someone to have walked. I was alone, in the dark, with a crazy person and a disabled vehicle. Then I noticed there were two other men, and they were all wearing vests with a company name on the back. This wasn’t a lunatic, he was some kind of a worker for the railroad. He continued to shout and curse at me, then he walked away.
Realizing he was going to just leave me there, I went from shocked to scared to angry. I grabbed a pen and paper and got out of the truck. “I need your name and phone number.” I said. The man turned and gave me a dirty look, then went back to speaking with his coworker.
“I said I need your name and phone number.”
“Look, we’re trying to finish this job here. Can you just get the **** out of here?”
I don’t know what made me so brave. I suppose it was anger and indignation, especially when I realized the nature of the problem. It was late and there was little traffic going that way. Probably figuring it was an unnecessary and time consuming step, the workers had put up no barrier or marker of any kind to indicate that work was occurring on the tracks and cars should stop and wait.
I was not leaving without the information. I looked at the business name on the vests and wrote it down on the scrap of paper, tucking it into my pocket. I walked around to face the man’s front instead of his back. “Okay, I said, “You all work for **** company. I’ll just call 411 tomorrow and report this to your boss.”
Now it was his turn to look scared. Without another word of argument, he gave me his name and the company phone number, then quickly got into a truck with the other men and drove away.
Surveying the damage to my vehicle, I picked up my cell phone and called for roadside assistance. The tire that had been hit was completely flat and I wasn’t going anywhere. It was now after 11PM, my vehicle was wrecked, and I was alone. Waiting for the tow truck, I was too shocked to be worried about the fact that I was a sitting duck in an isolated and not so great area. I looked up at the sky and watched the stars twinkle, feeling the cool night air on my face and wishing I was somewhere else. Shortly after midnight, the tow truck appeared like an angel and a middle-aged, bearded man changed my flat tire.
“You need a new rim,” he said, pointing to the bent metal. “You can get this into the shop tomorrow?”
“Yes, thank you.” At least someone was showing some concern for my predicament. Bleary eyed, I drove home and went straight to bed.
The next morning when I looked at my truck, I realized how in shock I must have been after the accident. In a sane condition, there was no way I would have driven this vehicle. The front quarter panel was smashed and the wheel well was so dented that, had I made a sharp turn, the tire would have scraped against it. I felt lucky that it hadn’t been worse for me. I immediately called my insurance company and reported the accident.
“So you hit a train?”
“No, I didn’t hit anything, it hit me.”
“You were hit by a train?”
“No, it wasn’t a train, it was something moving along the tracks but it was short, I think.”
The conversation continued in this way – and would ring the same when I tried to explain to friends and family what had happened to me – and the insurance report ended up saying “Hit a metal object next to train tracks.”
“Hi! How can we help you?” A cheerful blonde-haired lady sat at the reception desk of Moon’s Auto Body with a telephone receiver in one hand and a pile of mail in the other. There were papers and boxes all over her desk, and plastic-wrapped auto parts all around it.
“I called earlier, about the AAA claim. The Toyota truck?”
“Okay hon,” she said, picking up one of the papers from her desk and reading it. “Have a seat.”
As she asked me a number of questions, I looked around the shop. I’d been here several times before and knew the mechanics on a first-name basis. With all the driving I did, I exposed myself to more potential accidents, and they found me. Mostly people liked to back into me in parking lots, leaving me to scratch my head and wonder where that new big dent came from.
Suddenly I jumped a little in my seat as I realized the contents of one of the boxes on her desk was moving. Leaning forward, I peered into the box and saw a very sorry looking kitten. He was all grey and tiny, no bigger than the palm of my hand and probably about four weeks old. His eyes and nose were snotty and his coat was dull.
“Where’d you get him?” I asked.
“I hate people!” she said. “Someone threw him in our dumpster. I was taking out the garbage when I heard him crying in there. Had to climb in and get him out.”
I picked up the tiny mite and held him in my lap. He felt weak but spirited. He looked up at me with green eyes in a great wise face, and purred.
“The boss said ‘No animals in the office,” she continued, leaning closer to me as she told this part of the story. “So I said, ‘Fine, I’ll just quit!’” She gave me a conspiratorial wink. I assumed that her threat made the boss back off of his ultimatum. Looking at the kitten, I imagine he figured it would be dead soon anyway.
I continued to hold the little ball of fluff as we finished the paperwork, then I waited for the rental car to be dropped off. He liked to be scratched on his cheeks and purred very much when I did that. When the rental car arrived, I was sorry to give up my new friend.
“I hope he’s okay,” I said to the receptionist, handing him back to her. “I’m so glad you found him.”
“He’ll be fine,” she said, “Then I’ll try to find a home for him.”
I thought of the little kitten as I struggled with the insurance claim over the next two weeks. The workmen on the train tracks denied any wrongdoing, and their boss sided with them. The only thing I could get them to agree to was to pay for the damage to my truck. Later, people told me I could have sued and collected a lot of money, but I didn’t know anything at the time and couldn’t afford to call a lawyer anyway. The truck was fixed and my life as a pet sitter went on … until two years later.
WHAM! It was like déjà vu, some strange thing coming out of nowhere and hitting the left side of my truck. This thing, however, was not invisible; it was a large deer. Startled by something, the animal had jumped out of the bushes as I was driving through the wooded hills of Belmont and slammed right into me. Stunned, it lay on the ground for a few seconds, then scrambled to its feet and bounded away. I didn’t realized how much damage it had done till I reached my client’s house and got out to take a look.
“Oh, you’re got to be kidding!” I said to myself as I saw the huge dent in the front quarter panel, the same one that had been replaced after the train track accident. It looked like it had been punched with a very heavy basketball. I sighed as I thought of the trouble: the insurance claim, the time at the repair shop, the deductible I’d have to pay. What a nuisance. At least I hadn’t killed the deer … or it hadn’t killed itself.
The next day I drove to Moon’s and walked into the office to see a different receptionist from the last time. This lady was heavier, and had brown hair pulled up into a pony tail.
“Hi, I called about the Toyota,” I said, sitting down in front of her desk.
“Okay, here it is,” she replied, pulling a paper from a file. The desk top was very neat, and now my paper was about the only thing on it.
After filling out the paperwork I went and sat in the customer waiting area. I leafed through a gossip magazine, marveling at how many articles could be written about who is having a baby and who is a fashion disaster. If I could spend $10,000 on an outfit, I mused, I wouldn’t care if I was a fashion disaster. While reading the list of Academy Award winners, I saw someone – or something – coming down the stairs from the manager’s office.
Whoever it was jumped into the chair beside me, and looked up at me with green eyes in a great wise face. I looked down and saw a big grey cat with shiny long hair and a great plume of a tail. I reached down and stroked his cheek and he smiled and purred. I’ll admit it took me a minute to put two and two together, as it had been two years and I’d forgotten about the sorry creature the previous receptionist had rescued from the dumpster. Could it be?
At this moment the manager came down the stairs, and I greeted him.
“You again?” he joked.
“Yeah, I’ve managed to not have an accident for a little while.”
“That’s Auto, our shop cat,” he said, gesturing to my new friend. “He usually sleeps in my office.”
Auto looked up at me and purred, and I’ll swear he winked.