Tuesday, March 6, 2012

But Officer, the Car was Parked


If you owned a cab company what business would you most like to share space with?  In the late 1970’s I worked for the Stabler Cab Company in Miles City Montana.  Population close to 8,000.  The cab company was owned by brothers who had been in business for many a year.  

The office space for the cab company consisted of an old metal desk, dispatch equipment, black rotary telephone, notebook, desk top calendar, and a couple of chairs.  There was a short wood railing (fence) that was maybe 10 X 10.  The opening  had a half door that swung on its hinges. It took up the front corner of the Bison Bar.  There was a window that you could see out of in front of the desk. The juke box was situated right beside the railing against the outside wall.

When business wasn’t busy you could visit with the customers seated at the table near you.  It was a great spot for people watching.  The 1940 vintage neon sign still works and hangs outside the bar.  The cabstand is now gone.  It was sold and moved to another location, then sold again.

I worked as a dispatcher for the cab company.  My job was to take calls.  Contact a driver to pick people up and deliver them.  The company also provided a free wake up service.  You could call and leave your phone number and what time you wanted your wake up call.  Like many jobs it was hurry up and wait.  It would get real busy or be as slow as molasses.

I worked the swing shift 3pm to 11pm.  The drivers changed shift between 5 and 6pm.  I often worked with Forrest Ferris on the afternoon shift.  Then my boss Herman Stabler would come in and drive after 6:00 pm.  He told me lots of stories about the town.  He and his brothers did  a booming business until the mid 60’s when the local brothels closed.  He told me it was common to go pick men up at the airport and transport them to one of the brothels.  Now few flights come to Miles City .

I could still hear the country music songs in the back ground, bursts of laughter rang out and drinks slid down the wooden bar.  I remember the occasional clomp of cowboy boots, thudding their way across the wooden floor.  The din of the bar became muffled as I shut the front door and stepped out into the night.

Outside the street lights danced against the dark night sky.  The hot breath of summer grazed my neck, like a lover's kiss.  The lingering heat contrasted with the air conditioned bar.  The street light shown down on my LTD.  As I came closer I saw folded paper wedged under the wiper blade.  This is what I read -

           “Your car has been in an accident.  Please come to the Police Station.”  (Initials)

Accident!  How could my car be in an accident? No one was driving it. With a sinking heart I looked at my parked car.  It had been in a collision.  The back bumper had been smashed into my trunk. The trunk lid didn't budge when I tried to open it with a key.  Getting in I drove to the Police Station a couple blocks away.

It was about 11:30 when I walked up to the Police  Station Door.  I hit the intercom and waited to be buzzed inside.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone.  I explained why I was there.  The officer who left my note was gone. The night dispatch called the duty officer.  He handed me an accident report to fill out. I looked at it and then looked at him.

“Officer, what do you want me to do?”

“Please fill out the report.”

“I wasn’t there.”

“Where were you?”

“At the Bison.”

“Do you know Mr X?

“No”

“What were you doing at the Bison?”

“Working”

“You need to complete this report.”

“But Officer, my car was parked under the street light.  How could he miss it?”

“Obviously he didn’t.  You need to fill out the accident report.”

I was tired, cranky and not very patient, “That’s what I’m trying to explain.  I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t there.  My car was parked.”

Finally I showed him the note telling me to come to the Police Station.  The officer went through his notes and emphasized that the report needed to be completed.  At that point I surrendered and filled it out the best I could.  

When he read my completed report.  He looked at me and said, “the car was parked?”

“Yes, the car was parked.”

Mr X was the man who hit my car and the police informed me that he had no insurance.  I asked around town to see if anyone knew him.  Finally someone told me the name of his landlord.

I called the landlord and explained why I was looking for his tenant.  “He’s not here.”

“Do you know where I can find him?”

“Not yet. ”

“Oh?”

“Even if you find him odds are you won’t get anything.  He owes everyone in town. Including me.”

“That’s not good news.”

“I have someone looking for him.  He’s going to try and pursuade him to pay his debts.”

Naive me, “Do you think you will have any luck?”

Laughter. “Little lady, he’s going to get a beating.  Do you want me to have him add a couple of wacks for you?”

Heavy sigh, “No that probably won’t do much good.  Thanks anyway.”

“What did you tell the cops about your car?”

“I told the officer it was parked!”  

I heard his laughter as he hung up.

9 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness, Ruth. It really happened like that? I love that you've put in the dialogue-makes it seem so very like we're there. It must have been quite the time as a dispatcher-you saw lots of stuff I guess. You should have been a history professor; you know so much of the history around you. I'm sorry about the car, but the way you told the story, it seems so funny. My only sort-of wreck was when a person rear-ended me when I was drivng, not stopped. And I am not a slow driver. Luckily only the car was hurt, but all she said was that I was going slower than she was. Thanks for another good story!

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  2. How interesting that the cab company has a corner office in the bar! I love how described the setting-like a slice of noir. I once had my car hit while it was parked in front of my house-the crash sent the car 30 feet and rattled the kitchen windows-the person who hit it was never caught. The idea of the beating at the end...I wonder if Mr. x changed his ways!

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  3. Whoa. First of all, I think these car stories are sooooo interesting. So keep writing more. Second, gosh I'm not even sure what to say. This story was laid out really well, very well written, great last sentence. I hope Mr. X was able to turn over a new leaf.

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  4. Wow, what a crazy-true story.
    I love these lines Outside the street lights danced against the dark night sky. The hot breath of summer grazed my neck, like a lover's kiss.
    but they don't prepare you for the craziness to come.
    I am loving this car series of yours
    Bonnie

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  5. I loved this part:
    "I could still hear the country music songs in the back ground, bursts of laughter rang out and drinks slid down the wooden bar. I remember the occasional clomp of cowboy boots, thudding their way across the wooden floor. The din of the bar became muffled as I shut the front door and stepped out into the night.

    Outside the street lights danced against the dark night sky. The hot breath of summer grazed my neck, like a lover's kiss. The lingering heat contrasted with the air conditioned bar."
    It seemed to me, reading through the last few stories, that you really tried to slow down the moment and create a sense of mood. Loved it!

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  6. I wonder if they ever "convinced" Mr. X to pay his debts! Love your car stories. You should compile them in a book. Wouldn't it be great to have a picture of each car to go with it? If we only knew what we'd need in the years following our adventures! But your picture of the bar and cabbie corner were wonderful and put me in your place!

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  7. I love the wild west feel of this piece! What a great story to share. Plus, I have an affinity for the car stories myself!

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  8. Oooo! That was scary! I almost found myself checking over my shoulder to make sure no one was trailing me.

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  9. Mary Helen GenschMarch 12, 2012 at 5:12 PM

     What a story! I love the conversation you added in and the repeating line of "It was parked." Great slice.

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