September 30, 2010

Storytellers Are Everywhere

What I’m Reading Today: More wonderful Tolkien.

Some of the best storytellers never have anything in print. I just love coming across someone who can tell a good yarn. When I was bartending, I met a number of people who could, and my husband Steve and my sister Nikki are two of the best.

Yesterday, my friend Kim pointed me to a great storyteller. Kim’s an extremely talented artist, probably the most talented of anyone I know in person. She creates these amazing things, both personally and professionally. She sent me a link to a review of a business, of all things. It’s her parents towing business in Elk Mountain, Wyoming. This guy, Stephen W. from Seattle, does these great reviews on I don’t know if he’s a writer, but he’s a natural storyteller. Makes me curious who he is.  Here’s his review of Elk Mountain Towing.

I was driving about 85 MPH across Wyoming with my daughter's cats, which I had let out of their cages an hour or so before. Around 6 PM, a semi drifted into my lane. I jerked the steering wheel too sharply, the front left tire blew, and I went into a roll. The vehicle came to rest on its lid, and with the glass from the shattered sun-roof ground into my scalp, I unfastened my seatbelt and let myself out through the busted driver's side window through which both my daughter's cats had already escaped.

One of the cats, a fat orange rascal named Max, was grabbed by an alert spectator and handed over to the proprietor of this fine establishment.

I was released from the hospital around 3 a.m. I was covered in blood. One of my ears stuck out like a car door. The corner of the back of my head was sheared raw. The front desk nurse called her boyfriend, a very serious little man who worked three jobs: security guard, cabbie, and Holiday Inn desk clerk. He called his hotel, made a reservation on my behalf, then gave me a ride in a Gremlin that was apparently his cab but that had no meter. He also agreed to my request to stop by a liquor store, and he went in with my debit card and pin number and returned with a generously sized bottle of scotch.

I spent the next day or so on liquor and codeine in a Holiday Inn in Laramie. Finally, I thought, I had the strength to go get my daughter's rescued cat. I drove to Elk Mountain, pulled off the interstate, and found myself in a picture-postcard community with a single white church and a post office and little clapboard houses separated into blocks by dirt roads. In the post office, I asked the clerk how to get to the towing garage. He told me there were two ways. Please God, I thought, just tell me one of them. He said I could drive up the gravel road that went up the mountain and that, as soon as I crested it, I'd see the garage. So I drove off in my rented van up the mountain, and suddenly, my attention was arrested by a sign on a tree that said, in black block letters: FREE STOCK. I worked at Microsoft at the time, so I read "stock" to mean "shares". A knife of sudden fear went through me, I slammed on the brakes, the van slid sideways, and the bumper came to rest two inches from the side of a steer. He was joined slowly by cows that surrounded the van, staring stupidly at nothing in particular. Should I blow the horn? I wondered. Will they attack the van? Eventually, they dispersed.

I continued to the garage, which was huge, fronted by what looked like an abandoned gas station. The elevation is about a mile, I'm in pain, and I can't breath, and it's October, and the wind is whipping so fiercely it feels as if it might tip the van. And the proprietor is late. Finally, a little old yellow Toyota pickup pulled into the garage, and I approached the window. The driver, a taciturn old man, rolled it down.

"How you doin'?" he said.

"Well," I answered, "I can't breath at this elevation and I'm in severe pain and I've been waiting an hour. I'm fine, I guess."

Oblivious to my sarcasm, he said, "Wow. I was sure I told you I had to get the wife into Laramie for chemo before I could meet you here." And only then did I register that there was someone sitting beside him -- a pasty, bald woman with her head cradled in a neck pillow. I fell to apologizing for being every rude, self-pitying, cosseted asshole in the world. The man brushed my apologies aside and told me that he'd be back after he took his wife home.

Back he came, and we went into the garage and for an hour, he helped me track down Max the cat. We passed a crushed economy car. The roof was nearly torn off, and there was a jumble of clothing and jewelry and cash and suitcases, and a solitary spike-heeled shoe.

"That one was a fatality," he said. In my emotionally weakened state, I was momentarily and acutely attuned to the infinite sadness of someone who's just learned a daughter isn't coming home and has died violently in a place of almost lunar barrenness. Everyone, I thought, is worse off than me.

After two hours, we finally found Max in the wheel well of a truck. With him hugged to my chest, I raced excitedly to my van, tripped over a trailer hitch, and split my head on the cement floor. Max flew from my arms, disappeared, and I gave up for the day. I had to get back to my liquor and codeine.

The next day, I returned. I passed through the station in front of the garage, and there sat the proprietor's wife and several of her friends, in front of a fuel barrel with a hole cut in it and in which wood was burning. They were knitting, the wife again with her bald head cradled in her neck pillow. She greeted me sweetly and expressed her sympathy for my plight. I wanted to embrace her.

We found the cat, this time in the cab of a truck. I got him into the van, and the next day, I resumed my trip to Texas.

Amazing, isn’t it?

Questions of the Day: Do you know some good storytellers? The instinct to tell a story seems pretty basic and ingrained to me. Do you think it is?


Walt Giersbach said...

That is a wonderful story. Americans have a rich heritage of storytelling, from the literary to the vernacular, and this one belongs in a compilation.

Disclaimer: My "Crusing the Green of Second Avenue" collection is basically stories--urban legends--you might overhear in a bar.

Tamara said...

Don't we though?! I love that - that we tell stories as part of our culture. I would bet that it happens across the world too.

If you go to this review and click on Stephen W.'s name, he's reviewed other things too.

Oh - I didn't know about your collection. Congratulations! I'll definitely check it out. I love bar stories, or stories that might be heard in a bar.

Thanks, Walt!