The Rockport Miracles - Part 4: Episode 2: "The Ballad Of Derecho Dan"

They didn’t call him “Big Dan” for nothing. Standing tall at 6’4” and weighing 280 lbs., “Big Dan” was built for power and he needed every calorie of it to do the hard work that rolled up everyday to the Gas & Lube. His wife, Wilmena, was a strong, firm and clear thinking woman. Large boned and big hearted, Wilmena Newman knew how to take care of her boys. Each day she showed up at the Gas and Lube before noon carrying the boys’ lunches and dinners which invariably consisted of her famous tuna salad sandwiches, lunch box sized bags of Dan-Dee potato chips, and ice cold 8 oz. bottles of Coca Cola. The deliciousness of her tuna salad was so well known in Rockport, the Gas and Lube began selling “Mrs. Dan Tuna Salad Sandwiches” alongside the windshield wipers and spark plugs. No one knew why her tuna salad tasted so good or dared ask for her recipe. There were rumors swirling about town that it had something to do with dill, but it was never confirmed.

Their only child, Dan Newman III (aka “Little Dan”) worked at the Gas & Lube after school and on weekends. At 6’5” and 300 lbs. he was “little” in name only. Little Dan pumped gas, towed cars, picked up parts and ran the “Tire Corral” that Old Dan Sr. had started way back in 1920. Little Dan would organize discarded and worn tires that could still hold air and then sell them to people that needed something cheap and made of rubber. Assisting him everyday in this task was his beloved Boston Bull terrier that he called “Boston Dan” or “BD” for short.

BD was smaller and a might homelier than usual for his breed. He looked like a mutant Holstein cow in miniature. Big Dan used to say that BD was made from the parts of Boston Bulls that people threw away. He had a crooked back leg, one floppy ear and one straight ear, and a tongue that  hung out of the side of his mouth. The proportions of his head were small for his body making his sad brown eyes look big and bulgy. His forlorn looks endeared him to everyone who patronized the Gas & Lube. A good helper, BD would fetch small tools for the mechanics or issue authoritative glares and yips toward any customer he didn’t recognize. His favorite thing to do was play in the Tire Corral. After running and climbing through all the freshly sorted tires he would crawl inside the biggest tire he could find and go to sleep in it. Life at Big Dan’s and Little Dan’s Gas & Lube was sublime in those years, and as constant as the stars in the sky.

Then, Rockport’s “storm era” began. At first the storms created a windfall for the Gas & Lube. Their repair business saw a huge increase and townspeople knew their pumps were always dependable. But, Big Dan was worried. Though situated squarely in the middle of “Storm Alley,” the Gas & Lube was miraculously shielded from the storms by the Lincoln Casualty Insurance building next door. Big Dan was worried because the fate of his family and business depended on the survival of a 4-story orange brick building made from post-war prefab materials.

The irony of prospering while so many suffered was not lost on Big Dan and Mrs. Dan. Feeling blessed, they used the Gas & Lube to stage food and clothing drives to help storm victims. When the “Miracle at St. Swithun” attracted thousands of people from all over the world to Rockport, they created a shuttle service to deliver religious pilgrims to and from the site. The pilgrim shuttle profits were then donated to Rockport Hospital.

When Mrs. Dan entered a national contest to invent a new slogan for the leading brand of canned tuna, her old saying that tuna fish is “like peanut butter from the sea” won the top prize. She then donated the $1000 award to help build a memorial for victims of Rockport’s ill-fated Christmas tree bonfire (also known as “Storm 1.1”). 

And then one day, the Lincoln Casualty Insurance Co. went out of business. Thousands of storm damage claims had driven them into insolvency. Big Dan was real worried, now. Without the protection of the 4-story Lincoln Building, the Gas & Lube wouldn’t stand a chance.

Then, Storm 4.6 struck and the abandoned building lost a third of its roof. All of the windows on the building’s north side blew out during storm 4.10 and storm 4.12 caused the remaining roof to fall in. After that, it became just a matter of time. 

Big Dan and Mrs. Dan prayed and kept faith that the freakish weather would end before the Lincoln building did. As Year 5 of the storm era beckoned, the building was barely hanging on. It had lost all of its windows and suffered a partial collapse of its north wall. It was storm 5.2, a perfectly wicked derecho, that delivered the fatal blow. After that storm had passed, the Lincoln Casualty Insurance Co. gave out a final, pitiful groan and crumbled into a massive orange cloud of brick and asbestos dust.

Now that the building was gone, the Gas & Lube was exposed to the destructive power of the mysterious storms. Storm 5.2 tore off the iconic “Gas & Lube” sign that Old Dan Sr. had erected way back in 1916. It tossed the 7-Up machine around like a pack of Lucky Strikes, and the gas globes that sat on top of the pumps were never seen again. The damage wasn't so great, however, to keep Big Dan’s and Little Dan’s Gas & Lube from opening for business the very next day.

Meanwhile, ‘Little Dan” had been living comfortably in denial. He didn’t think an end was near because he didn’t think about it at all. An uncomplicated, soft spoken and genial fella, Little Dan just wasn’t a big picture kind of guy. His family’s business had been his past, it was his present, and it was to be his future because that’s what his mama told him. He wasn't ready for a world without his parents, his job, his mom’s tuna salad, and his beloved BD. 

But, when storm 5.5 rolled in with a vengeance, Little Dan’s perfect world would change whether he was ready for it or not.

NEXT: Part 4: Episode 3: “The Ballad of “Derecho” Dan” continues

© 2019 Scott MacGregor-EOI Media Press Inc.

©2019 Illustration by Rob Masek

©2019 Illustration by Greg Budgett

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Volume 15, Issue 3, Posted 2:00 PM, 02.05.2019