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Stranger In The Night

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One rainy Friday night my friends and I got a flat. Our car had run over a pothole two blocks from the expressway, and we pulled into a gas station between Armitage and North to change the tire. The driver popped the trunk, and I got out of the backseat to help him. He had a spare, a jack, and a crowbar, but they were buried under sports equipment and several boxes of promotional fliers. We started unloading the trunk, and water was getting in my eyes. Suddenly, from across the parking lot, we heard a shout. A hero was about to appear.

"Hello," the voice said. "Does anybody need any he-op?"

"Any what?" I shouted back.

"He-op," the voice said. A middle-aged man with shoulder-length hair, a mustache, and a Michelin stomach was moving toward us. He was wearing blue overalls and a baseball cap.

"Did you ask if we need any help?" a friend inquired. The man had reached the car.

"That's right, he-op," he said.

The driver shook his head. We had almost unloaded the trunk.

"Sure you do," the man said. "It's raining. You need to wait inside."

"We can do it," the driver said, but the man was already moving back across the parking lot. He quickly returned with a jack and a crowbar.

"We already have these," I said.

"Uh-uh," he said. "Mine are better." He reached into the front pocket of his overalls and pulled out a business card. The card had a picture of a car on it, and his name--Chuck the Car Whiz.

"That's me," he said, pointing at himself. "I am the Wid!"

"Did he say wimp?" a friend asked.

"No, no, the Wid," said Chuck the Car Whiz.

I showed her the card; the address on the car was somewhere on Cicero. It appeared that Chuck the Car Whiz did not work for this particular gas station.

"Is this you?" I asked. "Where do you work?" But Chuck was through with pleasantries. He was squatting down under the left front tire, looking for a notch for the jack. He found one, and slid the jack under the car.

Then he began emitting a series of pained grunts. "Heeeeeeeeeey-ah!" he said, as he cranked the jack. "Jeeeeeeeee-sus! Yeeeeeeee-ah!" The car did not move; Chuck the Car Whiz asked the driver to brace it for him. I went inside the gas station to buy a candy bar.

When I came back, Chuck had jacked up the car and was trying to remove the lug nuts.

"Do you need any help?" I asked.

"No, no, the Wid does not need he-op," he said, turning a nut. "Owwwwwww! That's some tire! Heeeeeeeey-ah!"

It took Chuck the Car Whiz ten minutes to get the lug nuts and hubcap off. Then it was time for him to lift the tire from the trunk. All four of us offered to help him. "No, I will do it," he said. "The Wid does everything for himself."

He wrapped his arms around the tire and lifted. "Ayyyyyyy-ah!" he shrieked. "This is heavy!" He pulled it out of the trunk and stumbled backward. Somehow, he didn't fall down. He swayed left, leaned right, and lurched forward.

"Are you sure I can't do anything?" I asked, backing away.

"No...I...have...got...it," he said. "Jeeeeeeee-sus Christ!" A burst of energy hurtled him toward the front of the car, where he dropped the tire. It bounced twice and came to rest.

"Phew," said Chuck the Car Whiz. "Damn it, the Wid is strong." He fit the tire onto the frame and started reapplying the lug nuts. He hummed to himself. "Rub-a-dug-dug, I'm putting back the lug," he said. The driver grimaced. After Chuck finished replacing the tire, he helped us reload the trunk.

"How much should we pay him?" a friend whispered.

The driver, soured by the experience, was prepared to leave without tipping Chuck the Car Whiz. "We're not giving him anything," he said.

Chuck overheard our exchange. "Give whatever is in your ha-ad," he said.

"What did you say?" the driver asked.

"He said give whatever is in your head," I said.

"No, no," a friend said. "He said give whatever is in your heart."

"That's wrong," another friend said. "He said give whatever is in your hide. You know, hide, because wallets are made of leather. He wants you to give whatever's in your wallet."

Chuck the Car Whiz pointed to his chest. "Give what is in here, give what is in your ha-ad."

We all looked at the driver, who sighed, pulled a $5 bill from his wallet, and handed it over. Chuck thanked us, tucked his jack and crowbar under his arm, and walked away. As we got into the car, I saw him waving at us.

"Remember me," he shouted. "Remember the Wid! I am the Wid!" We drove away, and Chuck the Car Whiz faded into the rainy night.

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