On one cold winter night ...
- In the darkness of the late night drive, reflective mile markers flashed by with a monotonous rhythm. Bob pushed the accelerator down just a touch hoping to eke out a bit more speed and, thereby, shorten the duration of his trip. But the slippery roads rebelled and he felt a looseness in the steering as Mother Nature challenged for control of the car anywhere past 45 mph.
He imagined his family at home, seated by the tree as it blazed in a festive mix of seasonal colors, the fireplace casting dancing shadows about the room as they sipped cocoa while watching "White Christmas", "It's a Wonderful Life" or "A Christmas Carol". Oh, but he wished he was there with them now at least before the children headed to bed. But, the snow continued to fall, as did the temperature outside, creating a nasty mix of hazardous driving conditions that would warm the heart of no one but Ebenezer Scrooge on a Christmas Eve night like this.
Bob thought about that for a moment, as he reduced his speed enough to regain control from the conditions on the road. "Scrooge?" he thought. Yes, this weather is Scrooge-like in its determination to spoil the spirit of the holiday."
Bob glanced at the trip meter; another 100 miles or so to go. Outside the car, he could see the wind swirling the snow a breath above the surface of the icy pavement. Bob sighed deeply. "There's nothing to be done but continue on."
He did some calculations in his mind and concluded that he had more than two hours to go at this speed, assuming all went well.
Up ahead, he made out a hulking shadow on the side of the road. As he drew closer, he could see the unmistakable shape of a Crosley. He slowed for a closer look as he passed and shook his head side to side, "Unless I'm mistaken, that's a 1947 Crosley Sedan, and in pristine condition. What the heck is it doing on the side of the road on a night like tonight?"
As he drove on, it occurred to Bob that the car had a 1948 license plate. "I wonder if it's even licensed for the road?" he pondered. "Well, that was strange."
Bob had hardly turned his thoughts back to his battle with the weather when he began to make out another shadow further up the road. He recognized the shape of a man trudging down the side of the road. As he drew closer, Bob began to apply the brake. The road was otherwise deserted and there was no conscionable way he could leave this man to face the storm alone, certainly not on the night of December 24.
Bob could see the man had the collars of his long, heavy gray coat pulled tightly around his neck. A slightly battered fedora was pulled down tight and tipped forward and to one side to block the wind from beating against the man's face.
Bob came to a stop beside him and motioned to hop in. But, instead, the man stood on the road surveying Bob's car from side to side as if he was trying to decide if it was animal, vegetable or mineral. Finally, Bob reached over and opened the door.
"Do you want to get in?" he asked impatiently.
Slowly at first, as though not quite convinced, the man nodded and, at last, accepted the offer to slide into the passenger seat.
Once inside, the man switched from surveying the car side to side to cautiously surveying Bob up and down. He seemed to find Bob's attire peculiar. Finally, he looked Bob in the face and said, "I thank you for the ride, sir."
"Well, I couldn't very well leave you out there, now could I?" Bob asked.
The two drove in silence for a moment before Bob asked, "Is that your Crosley I saw back down the road?"
"It is," the man replied.
"Nice little car," Bob said. "What were you doing out on the road with it on a night like this?"
"Just trying to get home to the family for Christmas," he said. "My `nice little car,' as you put it, ran a bit short on gasoline."
In an instant, Bob realized he would probably have to drive this man back to his car, extending the duration of his trip even further. He glanced at the clock in the dashboard and tried to recalculate his ETA in consideration of this new wrinkle.
"I sure appreciate you coming along," the man said.
Remembering the spirit of the season, Bob softened his heart a bit. "It's my pleasure," he said, even managing a slight smile.
After they'd drove a bit further, the man asked, "What kind of car is this?"
"It's an Impala," he said.
"Impala?" the man asked.
"Yeah, you know, a Chevy," Bob said.
"Chevrolet? I didn't know they made a model like this," he said as surveyed the lighted digitized dashboard with an apparent level of amazement.
Up ahead, Bob could see a large, illuminated Shell sign high on a post off the highway. Soon they were at the station where the man discovered he would have to purchase a plastic red gas can to carry the petrol. The convenience station, the gas can and, no less, the computer at the front counter, all seemed to leave the mean in a state of awe.
When the man came up short on the cost of the gas and gas can, equally amazed that "gasoline in these parts costs more than $3," Bob pulled out his debit card and made the payment on the man's behalf.
"It's OK. I've got it," Bob said.
The man watched a moment and then, as though he suddenly realized that, by swiping the card through the slot on the blue box on the counter, Bob had paid for the gas and container, the man offered a sheepish, "Thank you again, sir."
Soon they were back at the man's car. Bob got out and admired the vehicle for a bit, in spite of the blowing snow and cold, while the man carefully funneled the gasoline into the car's tank.
Then, the man opened the hood and, after removing the air filter, poured a few drops into the carburetor. He handed the gas can to Bob and said, "This is yours," before he hoped behind the wheel. In a moment the car was running with the hum of the in-line 4-cylinder engine.
The hood all buttoned up again, Bob nodded and said, "Merry Christmas," before heading back to his car and putting the gas can in the trunk next to some brightly-wrapped presents.
"And to you, sir," the man said. "And thank you again."
Eager to make up for lost time, Bob was quickly moving down the road ahead of the man. "Kind of a strange guy," Bob thought to himself, as he glanced at the man's headlights reflecting in the rearview mirror. Bob shrugged and glanced again, but they were gone. "Oh, my God, he must have gone into the ditch," Bob said outloud.
Startled, Bob hit the brakes a bit too hard and almost wound up in the ditch himself. Quickly, he spun the wheel around and headed back to help the man, the whole time thinking, what a shame if he banged up a vintage car, not to mention banging himself up a bit, too.
As he drove back, Bob could see no sign of the man off the road or among the trees. He went back to where the man had been stranded and turned the Impala around again. As he headed back up the highway, Bob noticed something strange. He could see his own tire tracks in the snow but he couldn't see any tracks for the Crosley. Bob came to a stop and looked.
"Yes, this is where we were," Bob thought. "That Crosley was parked right there."
But there wasn't a trace of tire tracks from the narrow tires on the Crosley. It was as if the car had completely vanished. Bob continued on another few miles and, coming around a bend in the road, suddenly recognized his exit.
"How can this be?" he thought. Deeply puzzled but equally pleased, Bob took the turn and was soon pulling into his driveway. He sat in the car a moment trying to make sense of what had happened. Then, he got out and popped the trunk open. As he gathered up the presents, he glanced where he had set the gas can. It wasn't there.
Shaking his head, he went inside where he was greeted by his wife, Julie, and children at the door with hugs and kisses all around. The children were thrilled to see him but Julie seemed as perplexed as Bob.
"How did you get home so quick?" she asked. "You called from Minneapolis only two hours ago."
Then, as though she suddenly suspected he had been ribbing her all along, she smiled in appreciation of his `little prank.'
Bob smiled back. But, as he hugged his wife again, he looked out into the swirling snow outside and wondered about the mysteries of Christmas.