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The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories

The Old Man and the GMC
• Tyrel Nelson
I’m looking left, waiting to go right. The traffic of the two-lane highway steadily races by. I lean over the dash and squint to discern if there are any gaps amongst the leadfooters. The oncoming halogens, however, are rapid and relentless. I recline, resigned to the reality that I’ll simply have to be patient until the signal changes.


There’s no rush though. Glancing at the clock, I determine I still have plenty of time to punctually punch in at work. And today has already started better than yesterday. Considering I had to jump my auto twenty-four hours earlier, I can handle the delay.

I try to clean my filthy windshield while in the turn lane. My attempt is futile. Pressing the button merely produces an irritating buzz, and not a single drop of washer fluid. I quickly give up. Figuring my spray nozzles are frozen, I crank the heat to max. The sound of the balmy air blasting through the vents is hypnotic. I study the melting remnants of what I missed with my ice scraper slowly slide down the glass. Then I witness the Ford logo, which is displayed across my horn, come to a screeching halt at the very tip of my nose.

WHAM! My ride lunges forward onto the thoroughfare. By sheer luck I am not crushed nor do I ram anyone else. Nevertheless, I’m in the worst of places. Not only am I holding up the line of cars that want to turn north too, but the truck cab, which is jutting perpendicularly across a lane of rush hour traffic, is also asking to be broadsided. So I gun it. I complete my hook in fishtail fashion, keep all of my weight on the gas for a half mile, and whip right onto the first available side street. I immediately pull over. I let my breath out.

Upset yet unscathed, I check out the rearview and pick up on a pickup (one actually smaller than my Ranger) devoid of its passenger headlight. A gangly, shadowy figure gets out. I do the same.

I step atop the thin layer of fresh snow covering the street to meet the elderly guy behind my idling vehicle. He’s slightly hunchbacked, bald, sporting Coke-bottle frames, and wearing a beard ZZ Top would approve of.

“Are you alright?”
He nods.
Annoyed he doesn’t echo the question, I shake my head and point to my busted license plate light. “Well, this is broken.”
“OK…” He finally utters in a hoarse voice.
“This wasn’t here.” I run my hand across the softball-sized dent in lower left portion of my tailgate.
“And besides these red marks on my bumper, I think that’s it.” I see the wheels spinning in his head.
“I thought you were gonna turn back there.”

The senior slaps me in the shoulder. The sky suddenly matches the color of his truck. Glaring back at him, I do my best to ignore his crooked smile. I practically march through him on the way to survey his jalopy.

The old man’s GMC Sonoma (early 90s model) appears to be on its last legs. All of the panels seem on the verge of falling off the rusty rattletrap, which is not much taller than a picnic table. And its scars are plentiful—dents, scratches, and scrapes of all sizes and shapes riddle the bucket of bolts. With regard to damage resulting from our collision, the golden-ager confirms what I observed in my rearview as he parked behind me: the passenger side headlamp is bashed out. In fact, the height of light lines up perfectly with my bumper. Thus, it didn’t stand a chance the moment gramps rear-ended me.

“Do you have insurance?”
“Yeah, but I have to pay to repair this.”
“Can I get your info please?”
“My headlight is gone buddy. You only have to replace a bulb.”
“YOU hit ME!”
The old man looks like a deer in his headlights.
“What’s your name and phone number?” I continue.
He reluctantly recites his data while I jot it down.
“Listen, I’m the oldest one at the gun shop. If I’m late, they’re gonna fire me,” he sighs. “So what do ya wanna do?”

I refuse to feel sorry for him because I believe he’s just trying to gain sympathy. Notwithstanding, I don’t want to be late to my job for the second consecutive day, nor do I wish to shiver any more than necessary. I peek over my shoulder and contemplate the minor injuries sustained by my weathered truck, which I’ve had for a dozen years. The new blemishes are hardly perceptible.

“I’ll call you if I need anything,” I answer as I pen his plate number.

I never phone him though. I conclude it would be much less hassle to live with the dimple and fix the bulb—a cheap, uncomplicated repair—on my own. Still, I wasn’t entirely free of the old man and the GMC.

A month flies by before I randomly discover the bespectacled fellow, who has a new headlight, pull up next to me at a red. We never make eye contact. Fearful of repeating the past, I slowly proceed through the green to let the old-timer take the lead. Then he abruptly cuts in front of me. Braking harshly, I drive exactly the speed limit till he disappears far up the parkway. I spend the rest of my AM commute wondering if he recognized me or if he’s just an awful motorist in general.

I’m looking right, waiting to go left when I spot the old man coming like a bat out of hell only two weeks later. It’s a bright Saturday morn, and he’s driving like he hotwired his Sonoma. I allow him to pass prior to entering the frontage road behind him. Despite the few limo lengths between us, I instinctively decelerate. I laugh while he swiftly darts into a residential neighborhood … sans blinker of course.

Several weeks pass, and there are no further sightings of the old man and the GMC. His tin lizzie and reckless driving begin to fade from memory. He is almost forgotten when a recent reminder strikes me, or rather my Ford, without warning.

I am dragging across the parking lot after a long day at work. As I approach my wheels, I notice my driver’s side taillight is shattered. A closer inspection reveals that the end of my bumper has been pushed in some inches to boot. I sling my backpack into the pickup bed. I throw down my baseball cap in disgust. Sitting on the tailgate, I try to cool off before taking on the PM gridlock. I also ponder over whom the hit-and-runner could possibly be and how the coward could have at least written a note.

I fire up the Ranger several minutes later. Already consumed by thoughts of how to replace my rear lamp, I open the glove compartment and reach for the owner’s manual. But my hand stops short of the book. Scribbled on the cover are the old man’s name, phone number, and license plate. I shut the glovebox. I decide to Google “taillight installation” when I get home.

© Tyrel Nelson April 2013
tyreln at

February 14
Tyrel Nelson

“We need to go up one more row,” Ron decides. “We can’t end the day on thirteen.

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