Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the Road with Bruce and Charlie

Sorry for the gap in posts.  Generally, I try to be reliable and write every day.  However, duty called yesterday and I had to respond.  With one week left to go before my current job expires, the last thing I expected was to get to do one last ride-along interview.  I’d heard about the event about a month or so ago, but the boss didn’t think they’d want photographs.  However, they did it and I was happy to accommodate my company.

Most people express surprise that I’d so willingly accept an assignment from a company that is laying me off.  However, there’s no resentment on my part and it’s no sacrifice to do something I love doing:  interviewing people and taking photographs.  I’m just sorry I won’t be doing it anymore.

Due to proprietary concerns, I can’t disclose just what sort of drivers they are.  Let us just say that they’re tow truck drivers.  That covers the matter without disclosing their employer or my employer’s intentions.

My job was principally to take pictures of driver Bruce doing his job.  Our video team was along for the ride, as well.  They were the ones who were supposed to be interviewing the drivers but I just couldn’t help myself.

Bruce used to be a tractor-trailer driver before he took up his present occupation.  He said he loves what he does and considers it an honor to help stranded motorists.  They’re never quite sure how long their days are going to be.  Much depends on the weather and traffic conditions.  He’s seen cars and even tractor trailers go off the road and he’s been able to pull them out.

You’ll hear more about Bruce later.  The video producer had intended to ride in the follow-up truck but at the last minute, changed his mind and rode with us.

Since Charlie wasn’t the subject – he’s Bruce’s supervisor, I can tell more about what he had to say.  I rode alone with Charlie back to our originating point.  He, too, talked about the snowstorms and the varying weather in our state.  Normally, weather is a rather prosaic subject; but not when you’re a tow-truck driver.  Late one night, he came upon a stranded vehicle stopped on the shoulder.  The driver got out and wobbled along the shoulder, then collapsed.  Charlie told his partner to stay where he was while he got out to check on the guy.

The man had bullet holes in him.  Being near a run-down city, Charlie suspected it was a drug shooting.  He ran back to his truck and called for the police.  “Don’t get out!” he told his partner.  “Let the cops handle this one.”  Charlie kept an eye in his rear-view mirror, fearing the shooters were still in the vicinity.

Another time, he was sent to check a vehicle stalled on a bridge.  When Charlie went up to the driver, the man announced that he had a bomb in his car.  Charlie ran back to his truck and radioed to the police.  He said they used to pull up right behind a vehicle, but since  9/11, they’d been taught to stop at least 100 feet back from the disabled vehicle before getting ready to tow it.

Charlie ran that 100 feet or so back to his truck and radioed the police.  The state troopers talked to the man.  No bomb was in the car, but the man said his dog told him there was one.

Another time, he responded to an overturned ambulance.  As he approached the vehicle, it burst into flames.  Charlie ran up to the vehicle, and pulled at least one person out but was unable to rescue anyone else.  One other person died.

Charlie was a former volunteer fireman.  His brother was a fireman as well.  His brother and some other firefighters were responding to a fire in a subterranean tank.  The tank was overgrown with vegetation which fueled the fire.  The tank exploded, killing the first two firemen in line, and burning Charlie’s brother with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 90 percent of his body.  His brother recovered and Charlie’s wife insisted he give up his volunteer firefighting duties.

Because the weather was so foggy yesterday morning, the shoot was delayed.  As a result, we spent most of the day.  The sun didn’t really come out.  But it was warm and the trees are all in full bloom.  Being outside on a warm day is always better than being inside.  Bruce, Charlie and the video team agreed.

What a wonderful coda to 13 years of interviewing and photography.

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