The Rockport Miracles - Part 4: Episode 3: "The Ballad Of Derecho Dan" Continues
A side note: I’d mentioned in one of my earlier dispatches that I hate River City and all of its orthodontured, boat-obsessed, inhabitants. When the storm-era began, you’d see groups of concerned River City folks standing on their lakeshore or sitting on one of their many boats, empathetically watching as one storm after another slammed into Rockport. Eventually, River City's mayor figured that he could make a buck out of Rockport's misfortune. He installed picnic tables, concession stands, and port-a-johns at several safe viewing points. What a jerk! (end note).
Meanwhile and miles away, Big Dan was having his doubts. He’d done all he could to hold the future together for his family but he knew that the Gas & Lube was an accident waiting to happen. When the Lincoln Casualty Insurance Building collapsed, his gas station had lost its best shield against the murderous derecho winds. Sure, his concrete garage could probably withstand the power of the atom, but the Gas and Lube wasn’t called “the Gas and Lube” for nothing.
On any given day, the place was cluttered with propane and acetylene tanks, compressed air tanks, all species of oil based products, and two underground tanks containing 24,000 gallons of gasoline! A sudden fire or explosion could start a chain reaction that would make the Christmas Tree disaster look like a hippy campfire.
Wilmena could read Big Dan like a book and she knew he was thinking about closing down the business. “Old” Dan Sr. is probably stirring in his urn right now,” she said, “he's worried you’re gonna shut down the entire works!” Then she said, “And, what about Little Dan? The Gas & Lube is his future, too, y'know. We can’t let him down. The Gas & Lube must go on, Big Dan!”
Wilmena’s words made something hurt deep inside Big Dan. He found himself at one of those crossroads that life pulls out of its ass every now and then when you aren’t looking. Any decision he made from this point forward would be wrong. Big Dan knew he had to make the right, wrong decision.
To placate his wife, Big Dan replied, “Your right, Wilmena. The Gas and Lube MUST go on, dammit!” Wilmena smiled and said, "That’s the stuff! Now, get your butt over here and eat some of this tuna salad.” Big Dan pointed an unloaded finger at Wilmena and said, “I’ve got no time for tuna, my love. I gotta lotta work to do today.” Big Dan then walked calmly into the Men’s bathroom and threw up. His broad chest felt heavy, he was shaking and sweating like a pig. After a few minutes, the sick feeling passed and he went back to work on a 1967 Opel Kadett.
Just then, the station’s tow truck pulled in with Little Dan behind the wheel and a Delta 88 on the hook. Oblivious as ever, Little Dan hopped out of the truck holding BD, his little Boston Terrier. Wilmena handed him a tuna salad sandwich and the hungry manboy shoved the entire thing in his mouth. After a few minutes of chewing and several swigs of Coca-Cola, Little Dan was able to enunciate a few words of recognizable English.
“What’s been going on since I’ve been gone?” he asked. “NOTHING,” his parents replied in syncopated unison. “Good!” said Little Dan, “‘It seems everybody I bump into thinks we're going out of business. Where do you s’pose they got that idea?” Wilmena and Big Dan traded glances and shrugged their shoulders. “Don’t pay attention to idle talk," said Wilmena. Big Dan playfully mussed up Little Dan’s hair. “C’mon son,” he said, “I’ll help you unhook the Oldsmobile.”
The remainder of their work day went according to Hoyle. The pumps were shut down at 9pm and the three of them were home safe and sound by 9:30pm. Wilmena changed into her night clothes and darned the boys’ socks while listening to the Indians game on the radio. Big Dan went into the family room, turned on the TV, plopped into his favorite chair, opened a can of beer, and immediately fell asleep. Little Dan retreated to his bedroom sanctuary and read comic books while a blissful BD chewed on a sock monkey. Wilmena and Big Dan slept in separate bedrooms. Wilmena always went to bed first. Little Dan always went to bed after her. Big Dan was always the last one to bed and always the first one to rise.
When Wilmena woke up the next day at 7am, she did so with a startle. Something didn’t feel right to her. Big Dan was always out the door by 6am but that morning she stuck her head into his bedroom just to make sure. As expected, he was gone but something she saw caused a chill to run up her spine. His bed was still made like it hadn’t been slept in. Maybe he slept in his chair all night? As she walked down the stairs, Wilmena’s intuition began to flare up and her anxiety increased with every step.
She noticed right away the downstairs lights were still on and she could hear the TV blaring. She gently called out, “Dan?” but there was no answer. Terrified, she ran back up the stairs and dragged Little Dan out of his bed. The intrepid BD sensed that danger was in the air and immediately crawled under a dresser. Little Dan, upset that his mom had woken him from a sound sleep, complained profusely but got up anyway.
Together they called out Big Dan’s name with greater and greater urgency as they went down the stairs and headed toward the family room. It was there in front of their Zenith TV they discovered that Big Dan and all of their dreams had died during the night. Slumped over in his favorite chair, the coroner determined later that he’d died of a massive heart attack during the Tonite Show with Johnny Carson.
Then, just when things couldn’t get worse, they did. The city’s disaster sirens began to scream out their warnings all over Rockport. Another storm was on the way.
NEXT: Part 4: Episode 4: “The Ballad of “Derecho” Dan” continues
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©2019 Illustration by Greg Budgett
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