You never know when an ordinary evening will become an unplanned adventure.
As Rob and I and our son, Kirk, headed for a fish dinner at H-Salt, the weirdness of the evening came to us by degrees. Just as we turned into the small street that led to the equally small restaurant, we saw the fire engine. A huge vehicle, it seemed to take up most of the tiny parking area. And then we saw the cop car, parked in the handicap spot we normally call ours.
As Rob steered past and around the fire engine, the yellow tape came into view. And suddenly there was the rest . . . our nice fish and chips shop with its front plate-glass window gone, and the building’s front wall severely bashed and leaning precariously inward. Police tape and shattered glass led toward the interior, a different version of the Yellow Brick Road. Among the mess stood cops and firemen.
Well . . . there’s no dinner here tonight, I thought, at which Rob called out to a policeman, “Are they open?”
“Yeah, they’re open,” said the cop, a decent fellow acting as a good citizen for an ailing business.
From the back seat, Kirk added laconically, “Wide open.”
I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing.
As we emerged from the car, we asked, “What happened?”
A nearby fireman answered. “A woman hit the accelerator instead of the brake.”
He pointed. “She’s sitting inside. Pretty much all right. Even the car isn’t that bad. It’s the restaurant that took the hit.”
With some trepidation, we entered. But the area in front of the cash register was out of commission, with its carpet of shattered glass walled off by yellow tape. Still, the Chinese owners had managed to do their work behind the melee, taking our order from a different counter.
It was time to find our table. But in our path was an ancient woman sitting on a chair, head down, staring blankly at the floor . . . while nearby, looking years younger, was her four-wheel walker. The woman herself seemed to be in her eighties.
As we parked at an undisturbed table off to one side and ate our usual crispy fish and zucchini, we were treated to an interesting scene: what happens after someone bashes in the front of a going business. We recalled that customers often waited for their orders by sitting in metal chairs backed up to that now-destroyed wall. “They’d have had some serious spinal injuries,” Rob said, “knocked off their chairs and across the room.” I knew he was thinking, like I was, Thank God no one was there this evening.
For starters, the original fire truck departed, and another, double the size, parked in the nearby alley. Some two dozen firemen (or so it seemed), emerged, carrying tools, lumber, nails and saws. As they were setting up, the luckless woman driver managed to stand and wheel her way out of the restaurant.
“How will she get home?” I wondered aloud. “Will they give her back her car?”
“If they do,” Kirk said dryly, “she’ll be right back inside.”
An observation that sent me into another round of laughter. Without Kirk, the adventure would have lacked a certain crucial element.
For the rest of dinner we watched the noble employees of the town of Orange performing at their noble best. They swept up glass; they removed twisted chairs; they installed an ingenious brace to hold up an ailing ceiling; they constructed a device from which the owners could seal off their business during the night. They went about their job with industry, experience, and obvious good will. One of the firemen even came to our table and explained what was going on. “We do this all the time,” he said, and it was clear he spoke the truth. “We had to pull a metal chair out from under the car’s hood.”
“Why didn’t those little parking-lot bumpers out front stop her?” I asked. I was thinking, They’re cement. They’ve stopped me a few times.
Rob said, “Looks like she ran over two of them—one for each wheel.”
“For some cars, those bumpers are just a reminder,” he said. “We’ve seen drunk drivers in a parking lot bounce over eight or nine of those things in a row. You’d think after awhile they’d notice.”
Once finished, Kirk went outside, where he and the helpful fireman stood by our car, talking. After Rob and I got in, the man signaled that Rob was to roll down the window. “Come back next week,” he said, “we’ll try to have twice the show.”
With that, Kirk said, “I’ll never forget this one.”