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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Way Things Really Happen


Clearly, it was an accident.  Foundations of tall buildings are very deep and the ramps into them are steep, and when wet can be slick and treacherous.  With one cement truck emptying into the forms and several waiting, the accident was no surprise.  A little bump, no real damage to the initial truck, but enough to send that truck sliding into the one below, and there was some damage to that truck.  Enough damage to grind the parade of cement trucks to a halt.  They stood in the street, revolving mixers, idling engines and drivers thinking how great it was to be paid by the hour on days like this.  It was a helpless feeling for the people stuck in the quicksand of traffic around the site.
                                                           
Sitting in his Pepsi truck, trying to make his deliveries Bob Miller had seen the whole thing.  Recently, Bob had quit smoking, and was having difficulty sleeping, so he was looking at life a little irritably.  Yesterday, all of the drivers had been called into the route manager’s office and told the weak economy was going to force some layoffs, after that meeting Bob was more miserable about existence.  Sitting in the cab of his truck, with the windows down, smelling the cigarette smoke coming from the cab of the cement truck beside him, he started looking at life with a whole new level of anger.  He noticed that all three trucks involved in the accident were from different companies.  An awful idea took hold of Bob’s sleep deprived, nicotine fixated mind, an idea that would exact some small amount of revenge for the predicament he and his fellow drivers faced.

Anybody who has been in an accident will tell you there is a moment when things seem to move so quickly, time in a microwave.  It was that way for Gene Lifton, he was sitting in his Coca Cola truck, waiting at a traffic light.  A Pepsi truck coming from the right jumped the curb, smashed though a mail box, a newspaper machine and rammed into his truck.  It was the most bizarre thing he could imagine, yet it had happened.  Years afterward he would think back and the surrealism of the event still carried surprise.

The sound of two delivery trucks filled with carbonated  drinks colliding is almost unreal.  First the explosion of the collision, the scream of metal followed by the timid little pops of cans and bottles bursting the length of both trucks.  Warm, sticky Coke and Pepsi ran down the sides and through the bottoms of both trucks, people stood hypnotized by the sight. 

Bob was not done, though.  Jumping from the cab of his truck, Bob grabbed a tire iron and a bottle broken right below the neck, and ran towards the disabled Coke truck.  Bob felt the conviction of hopelessness and wanted to make a statement that would bring attention to the plight of the working man.  He ran through brown, sticky puddles of cola in the gutter and the curb.  His anger blinded him the to the side mirror that had broken off of his truck, causing him to trip and land on his own broken bottle.  Though the damage was extensive, and he was in surgery for three hours he lived.  He could never again handle the rigors of route delivery, and was forced to take a voluntary, early retirement, saving the jobs of all the other drivers.  An investigation into the accident was inconclusive, and even though there was no explanation of why he fell on a broken bottle, no charges were filed.

Watching with great interest was as act played out was July Summers, her parents thought her name was hilarious, July hated it when younger, but lately began to enjoy the reasoning.  As a teen, however, she had blamed it for many of the problems she faced.  She was not the most popular but she had some friends.  She had been fairly attractive and always felt that her name had kept her from being more well liked.  She never realized that most kids in high school wanted to be more popular and felt they would have been if only a few things, beginning with their parents, had been different.

July worked at a small insurance company right in the heart of the business district.  There were several agencies selling insurance in the same area.  Mostly they all got along together well, and there is always plenty of need for insurance.  But, July felt that people at The Insurance Emporium were a little underhanded, if not unethical, perhaps even illegal in their approach to landing new accounts.  When she saw Bob Miller take the cola wars to a new level, on his own, she thought, “why not me?”

 Why not, indeed, as July walked back to work, latte in hand, her mind plotted schemed.  The Insurance Emporium was only a block away.  She took a few extra minutes and walked past their store front.  Looking for a weakness, anything.  There was an alley beside the building with several large dumpsters.  Her hands began to shake and she was almost giddy with anticipation as her plan formed.  As she walked into the office a co-worker asked her “what’s in that coffee, it must be the good stuff, making you shine like that”?

It was almost Midnight when July walked down the alley towards the dumpsters.  She was carrying a can of gasoline and some large wooden matches, the type that light by striking on a variety of surfaces.  Somehow, that seemed more appropriate to July.  It was always so quiet at night in the business district that she actually jumped and screamed when a cat ran out from behind one of the dumpsters.  July was shocked, she never wanted to hurt any animals, they were all so innocent.  But, her mind was made up.  She doused one of the dumpsters with gasoline, lit a match, and tossed it inside.  But, the thought of an animal being stuck inside really unnerved her, and she had to look.  She rushed closer and looked over the edge to a few bags of trash and nothing living.  Relived, she backed away, not before her shirt caught fire, just the fringe,  it was only smoldering, not really on fire.  She burned her hand slapping the fire out.  The pain caused her to stumble on a milk crate and sprain her ankle.  In a precautionary act she took off her shirt and threw it in the fire and drove home topless.  She did not want the police finding a singed shirt in the trash at her house.

She limped back to her car cursing all the way, and watched from a distance as the building caught fire.  Inside the fire suppression system sprinkled water over the flames and the fire department arrived and put out the rest before too much damage was done.  Naturally, they had fire insurance, the arson investigators chalked it up to kids playing around and The Insurance Emporium employees all got new computers, furniture and a great new kitchen area with an espresso machine and a soda fountain.  July’s hand healed but, the scars stayed with her the rest of her life.  Her ankle became so swollen and discolored that she had to miss her date the next night, with a very attractive doctor, at a party to celebrate the opening of a new cancer wing at the Lutheran Memorial Hospital,   He found another date, they married in the spring and had three children and a wonderful, happy life.

As the fire trucks roared to the scene they woke Billy Wilson, a plumber who worked mostly on new buildings.  Lately things had not been good in the construction industry, and worry had been forcing a light sleep.  As he watched through his window the fire trucks roared past.  Billy felt an idea take seed, begin to take root.  Why not create some new building.  It would not be hard, all he needed to do was blow up a few of the buildings that were being renovated.  Nobody needed to get hurt and insurance would pay to rebuild them, it was a perfect plan. Billy always felt insurance companies had enough money for everyone, but just try to wrestle a penny away from them, fat chance!

It is amazingly easy to assemble the parts and combine them into explosives.  There are resources for the amateur bomb maker almost everywhere.  As Billy worked out the details and discovered the relative ease he was amazed that more people were not blowing things to pieces.  He really thought seriously about blowing a few things into small pieces just for fun.  But, he reasoned no point mixing business with pleasure.  There would always be time to blow other things to bits later, there were important things to take care of now.

For two weeks Billy worked through his list, wearing wigs and different hats and clothes while buying the components.  Caution was his ally, his guardian angel, and his constant companion.  Completely unnecessary, no one paid him the least attention, and had anybody been asked later the only thing they would have remembered were the silly sunglasses, the goofy hats and the awful toupees.

When the time was right he parked blocks away and toted his 45 pound bomb to the site where a new apartment building was almost finished.  Billy snuck inside and placed the device on the floor of the middle unit, figuring that would cause the most damage.  When the timer was set for 20 minutes he jumped out the window and ran away as fast as he could.  He never saw the dog.  It was a pit bull that had escaped from his pen two blocks away.  The dog ripped two tendons and opened an artery.  Seeing the attack a homeless man came to Billy’s rescue, saving his life.  Billy was forced to use a cane for the rest of his life, which made plumbing very difficult, painful and slow.  The company moved him to a clerical position, after some difficulties adjusting he became less uncomfortable.  The homeless man was a temporary hero, but, after a few days was forgotten.

Explosives are not difficult to build and the parts are easy to come by.  But, the training to make the right one for the right job takes time and patience.  Billy’s explosive would have made a great display on Independence Day, or had it been built correctly it might have done some real damage.  As it was it only blew out the front door two windows and part of the stair case.  In two days it was repaired and the building opened on time.  An investigation into the cause was inconclusive and it was widely assumed to be a gas leak, and an errant smoker.  Rumors circulated that it was a botched terrorist attack.  Nothing generates attention like controversy and people came in droves to see the building.  So much attention increased interest in the buildings and all of the units were leased before the complex opened.

Some people feel destined for greatness, others are happy to just go unnoticed.  There are times that call for acts of heroism, and times that demand sacrifice and courage.  Most times are pretty average, and most things are pretty simple, and you are normally going to be much better off just being yourself.  Remember the words of Bob Dylan

“The moral of this story, the moral of this song,
is one should never be where one does not belong.
Always lend a helping hand when your neighbors carrying a heavy load,
and don’t go mistaking paradise for that house across the road.”

And you will be fine.