There was a time I could look at a Ryder truck without a second thought, but that has all changed for me now. It's strange sometimes how the oddest objects become meaningful to you at the slightest provocation. Now, whenever I see a Ryder truck en route to somewhere I can't help but smile. But I don't think about moving or low-cost mileage.
In June of 1995 I met Lizzie and Joe_Mama for dinner at the Eastside Grill in Northampton, Massachusetts. We had all "met" on irc (Internet relay chat) and had known each other virtually for a year or more. Joe_Mama had a farm and lots of kittens to find homes for, and Lizzie wanted one. So, we all decided to meet: Lizzie driving south from New Hampshire, Joe_Mama driving north from Stamford and me, having the best of the bargain from Amherst, a short 20 minute sprint.
We met and had a wonderful time, the three of us hit it off well. Lizzie got a new kitten (she named him "Mighty Shepherd" after Alex "Joe_Mama") and we all got slightly drunk. At that time, trying to recover from a recent negative experience, I had sworn off men completely. Lizzie had had her own negative experiences too. As I recall we all discussed this a bit, but Joe_Mama, ever the optimist, told us that our problem was geographic. Both Lizzie and I lived in locales where people moved to after they found partners, and that we needed to look elsewhere. He told us he had a friend or two who were single and we should meet them.
Sure enough, not long after that dinner meeting, "BigLlewy" joined our irc channel one day and Joe_Mama sent both Lizzie and me private messages indicating that this was one of his single friends. We chatted, but BigLlewy, being new on irc wasn't all that savvy so it didn't go very well. He seemed to take forever to respond to a discussion through private messages. I figured he was trying to send messages to all the women Joe_Mama had "introduced" him to, and that accounted for the tremendous lag. He was on sporadically, but our irc conversation was not particularly outstanding. With a nickname like "BigLlewy" I imagined him to be a big New York Italian mafia stereotype that probably wore a long raincoat and walked with his hands in his pockets.
Then late one night I was experiencing a bit of insomnia and I joined irc hoping it might make me sleepy. Joe_Mama was online and asked me if BigLlewy had called me yet. I responded that he had not and Joe_Mama prompted me to make the first call. It was 1:30 am or so, but I was in an adventurous mood and dialed the number.
Llewy had a good sense of humor and we liked each other right away. We ended up having a pleasant conversation. He was, after all, far different than my idle speculations. After that we emailed each other a few times and there were a few more phone calls, some of marathon length. Finally, weeks later, Llewy offered to pick up a New York City deli picnic lunch and drive up to meet me. I agreed to the plan and we decided to meet early afternoon on the following Saturday. He would drive to Massachusetts and meet me at my house at 1:00 p.m.
That Saturday at about 2:00 p.m. or so, the phone rang and it was Llewy telling me that he was just now getting out of bed. "We can do it another time," I told him, but he insisted he would get it together quickly and be on his way so I agreed.
I had two friends, carpenters, who were doing some renovation on my house that Saturday and they asked me where my date was. I told them about the phone call and they rolled their eyes telling me that he sure didn't sound like a winner. I laughed.
A little after 3:00 the phone rang again and it was Llewy, on his cell phone, telling me that he was on the road. He had packed up his dog, thrown some things together and was on his way, actually now on Interstate 95, headed north. He planned to stop for a to-go coffee and continue straight through he said, no more delays. He hadn't time to pick up the deli lunch he told me, but figured it would be all soggy by the time he got here anyway.
It was after 3:30 when the phone rang again and it was Llewy on the cell phone once more. The car broke down, he apologetically told me. "Well then," I replied, "meeting another time would be better." But Llewy told me he was close to an exit ramp and he could see a gas station at the end of it. He thought it wouldn't be too difficult to roll the car down the ramp to the station and see if a repair could be made. "Ok," I told him.
My carpenter friends and I had coffee then and they asked me who the hell this guy was. A friend of a friend I told them, not bothering to try to explain irc. "Sounds really strange to me," one said, "bet he doesn't show." The other one laughed. "Yeah, I can tell this guy is seriously interesting in meeting you," he said sarcastically.
It must have been 4:30 or so when the phone rang once more and sure enough it was Llewy with an update. "The car can't be fixed today," he told me, "It looks like major repair work and may not be salvaged at all."
"Look," I told Llewy sensibly, "I understand. We can do this another time."
"No!!," Llewy insisted, I see a car rental place nearby. If I hurry I can rent a car and still get there.
"OK," I responded doubtfully.
The carpenters had heard the phone ring and wanted to know the update. I told them and they only laughed. "Good luck," they told me as they packed up their tools and left for the day.
I got on irc and Lizzie was online. She knew I was planning to meet Llewy and wanted to know what was going on. I updated her with the sequence of events that day. "I dont want to hurt your feelings," she told me, "but he is never going to show!"
"You may be right," I typed back.
The phone rang once more. I figured it must be Llewy and I was right. I could hear the noise of traffic in the background and I knew he must have rented a car. "I'm on the road." he told me, "I had to rent a truck, because there were no more cars. I can't hear very well with this noise," he added, "so I'll see you soon."
It was all very interesting. On irc again, Lizzie told me to expect another phone call with another excuse and I thought she might possibly be right. It was after 6 now and that meant the arrival time would be 9 or so. He was, after all, barely out of New York City when the breakdown occured. I considered a nap. After all the Greek chorus of carpenters and irc friends had predicted the worst anyway.
Nervously, I continued straightening up the house. Why was I doing this anyway?? I hate blind dates and avoid them at all costs. But then, I rationalized, this wasn't really a blind date. I mean, we had exchanged electronic photos and had spoken on the phone a number of times. This was different. At least I hoped it was.
It was after 9:00 pm and I was tiring, but the phone rang and it was Llewy. Though he had the directions I had given him, he was lost, but he was in Amherst. I reiterated the landmarks and street he needed to look for. "Here is the street now," he told me, "see you in a minute!"
There was barely enough time to run a comb through my hair and get to the door to look for his approach when something large sped by my house. A short distance down the street at the corner, it awkwardly turned back and was now entering my driveway.
It was the largest Ryder truck I had ever seen. Huge enough to hold the entire contents of my house, it filled most of my driveway. The door opened and out bounded Harrigan, Llewellyn's Tibetan terrier with Llew close behind. There was a sense of disbelief that he had actually made it. We hugged each other and I think at that moment we both knew it had been worth the struggle. Llewellyn went to the back of the truck and flamboyantly opened the large rolling door. The cavernous interior was empty save a handful of items, he extracted and gallantly presented to me some badly wilted and near dead flowers (it was, after all, August) and a bottle of warm champagne.
That weekend, Llewellyn ended up staying 4 days or so. That was over a year ago. We laughed a lot then and continue to do so about the misadventures of Llewellyn's car and our savior in the form of the big yellow Ryder truck. With a smile, we always point the trucks out to each other when we see them on the highway and since then have had numerous creative thoughts about different possible uses for these large vehicles. Despite most of my neighbors thinking I had found a job elsewhere and was preparing to move, we had a wonderful time together. This served to permanently indebt us both to Joe_Mama, who with cool subtlety, occasionaly will remind us. Though I think at this point Llewellyn has only a few cords of wood left to chop for Alex. It also made me aware of Llewellyn's propensity to always persevere, a trait I very much admire.
The series of mishaps were such on that day, that there have been times I have accused Llewellyn of never owning a car at all and (brilliantly) choreographing the entire day. Llewellyn claims this is not at all the case and I have actually seen pictures of the now-defunct car, so I have to believe him. A bit of my faith was restored in humankind that weekend, and the Ryder truck is, to me, a symbol of that effort.