A Very Deuce Christmas Story... recalling the incredible events that took place over a few days during Christmas of 2000. You can read the first 3 parts, including the exposition by clicking here.
“Are we all set?” I asked, climbing into the backseat of Matt’s Explorer. Matt Latta was a young guy, fresh out of high school, attending college at Lee University. About my height, he was a somewhat thinner, and had dark brown hair like his girlfriend, Ginger, who sat in the other front seat. Though I could remember when they were with different people, that memory has been slowly and steadily fading over the years--eventually, it will be that none of us could remember a time when they were together.
“I think so,” Matt replied, starting his truck. Wookiee was in the truck ahead of us, and had just left the circular parking lot of The Deuce a few moments before.
“How did the fat guy get stuck in the middle?” Michael asked. Michael wasn't exactly "fat", but he was quite hefty. Michael had been my roommate for a while now, along with Tom and Shawn in the other vehicles, and he outweighed all of us. Stocky would be a good word. Husky might be better.
“You whine too much, Michael,” Ty laughed as he got in the other side of the backseat, with Matt leaning up to let him in, then closing the driver door. Ty had been a part of the Deuce for a long time as well. A Samford student, at the time we thought he might be a future president, though I've always maintained his assassination would be immenent were he to be elected. Over the years, politics had given way to evangelism, but he never has lost his flair for people.
“How cold is it supposed to get today?” Ginger asked. Out of this entire group that I knew and had met over the last two years (I moved to Birmingham in 1998) Ginger was one of the first people I had ever met. A very pretty girl, she was a year older than Matt, though complimented him perfectly.
“Cold,” Matt answered, shifting into reverse. “Its expected snow flurries and drizzling rain all day today.”
“Great,” Michael smirked. “We go to help others and we get sick and die. Yeah boy.”
“Do we know where we are going?” Matt looked at me through his rearview. “I thought Amy was supposed to come last night to the dinner, and then we would follow her.”
“She was,” I replied, “but she couldn’t get away from her family. I’ll call her when we get close to Tuscaloosa and find out how to get where we are supposed to be. Don't worry, though. I have directions."
“Can we even get in there?” Michael asked. “I thought they shut places like that down to the general public.”
“Hold on, guys,” Ty picked up his cell phone. Ginger, Michael and I watched Ty as he dialed a number and then held the phone up to his head.
“Ty, what are you doing?” Matt laughed.
“Just wait,” Ty smiled, turning his attention to whomever answered his call. “Yes, this is Senator Nicholas Coffey from Samford University. May I speak to Officer Garnett, please? Thank you.”
Michael and I looked at each other, then to Ginger who just rolled her eyes, then back to Ty as he began to speak again.
“Officer Garnett? Pete, this is Ty, how are you? Oh, I’m good. Yeah, my parents are great, and yours? How’s Denise and what’s your new daughter’s name? Oh yes, Candy.”
Michael looked at me, mouthing the words “Candy?”
I shrugged my shoulders. Ty continued.
“Cutting teeth already? Wow! Yes, I’m still a sophomore, but ready to graduate already. Well, right now I’m on my way to Tuscaloosa… yes, I thought they would have shut the area off, but there will be three vehicles coming through that area that need to get through. We are doing clean up in one of the neighborhoods. Can you make that happen?”
I rolled my eyes as Ty then proceeded to describe each vehicle, each driver and each license number. He had the license numbers stored in his cell phone, which didn’t surprise me.
“Thanks, Peter. You too. Goodbye.” Ty closed his cell phone, then looked at all of us. "We have clearance now."
“Ty just got us clearance to enter the area,” Shawn said as he closed his cell phone. Shawn was the oldest of the Deuce guys, though only by a few months over me. He was my height and build, though our personalities were quite different. He was a DJ on the side, with a love for music in general. “Now I’ve got to call Amy and find out where we are going.”
“Look at that storm cloud,” Leslie said from the backseat, pointing towards the horizon. “That looks mean.” Leslie was also going to Lee University, like Matt and Ginger, and was known for her thick main of beautiful hair.
“What’s the weather going to be like?” Steph asked. Stephanie Nipp, Michael's sister, was close to Leslie, and especially Ginger, as they all graduated high school together the year before. She was thin, blonde, funny and though she maintained many of Michael's facial features, in my mind at least, she was a thousand times better looking than Michael.
“Supposed to be really cold,” Wookiee replied, looking to his right as he merged onto I-20. Wookiee, also known by his given name, Chris, stood 6 feet, 9 inches tall. He was a tower of a man, but really nothing but heart and fear of mice. Wookiee had been my roommate for most of my college life, and we had known each other at that time for about 8 years. I was one of the main reasons that he was in Birmingham, as he bonded well with the group. “There is actually supposed to be a pretty major winter storm tonight, with snow and sleet and all the trimmings, but I am hoping we can get out of there before that hits.”
“And if we don’t?” Shawn asked.
“Famous last words, Wookiee.”
“That was Ty on the phone,” Jenn laughed as she hung up her phone. Jennifer Hudson--Jen Ernst as she would later be known--was thin, very blonde and very awesome. She attended Northwestern University, and we only knew of her really because of Tommy. “He said when we get off the exit and run into the barricade, we should ask for Officer Wes Gray, and tell him who we are. They’ll let us through.”
“So like, does Ty know everyone, or just everyone that makes a difference?” Tommy asked randomly. Tommy, also attending Northwestern, was also very thin (I hung out with lots of skinny people), but was known for four main components, all working hand in hand to create Tommy McLeod--his paleness... his bushy hair... his glasses... and his dry, dry humor. He was the kind of guy who would tell a joke only once--if you heard it, you heard it, if you missed it, then you missed your shot.
“He just knows everyone that makes a difference,” Tom replied. “He figures its good to know everyone, no matter their lot in life, but if they have some power, all the better.” Tom was the youngest guy in the Deuce, tall, thin blond hair and a deep, deep voice. At the time of these events, he and Stephanie Nipp had recently split from a rather lengthy relationship. There feelings toward each other on this particular day are really not for me to say, and since they have no bearing on what I have to tell, it doesn't matter.
“Did you hear that?” Justin piped up from the front seat. “Listen.” He reached out and turned the radio up. Justin Glenn was not one of the skinny people. He wasn't fat by any means, he was just truly stocky. Built like a football player, he was often seen with a ball cap and a slight gotee, and usually seen with a guitar in his hand.
“A large storm system is moving through central and northern Alabama,” said the announcer’s on the radio, “bringing with it more snow than many of us have seen in a long time. Expect the high today to be only about 25, while the low tonight will fall down to about 8 degrees. It will be rainy in patches all over central Alabama practically all day long today, with the snow hitting tonight about 6pm. This is Mark Prater for 95.7 Jamz.”
“So what you guys think? Are we going to die?” Drew laughed as he merged onto interstate 59. Drew rounded out this group headed towards Tuscaloosa. He was known for his long, shaggy hair and love of Guns N Roses, particularly Slash, and like Justin, was also seen more often than not with a guitar in his hand.
“I hope not,” Jenn replied. “I’ve got stuff to do this weekend.”
The group in the car began to chatter aimlessly, as groups of friends tend to do, when suddenly...
“Watch out!” Justin yelled out of nowhere, pointed to the car directly ahead. As the vehicle ahead swerved suddenly to the right, Drew swerved directly to the left. His car zoomed around the swerving vehicle, narrowly missing it as the second car came back to the left.
Drew watched in his rearview as Justin, Tom, Tommy and Jenn turned around to see the other car’s front left corner ram into a passing car’s front right. Drew slammed on brakes in the middle of the interstate, looking to see if they should stop.
They watched as men got out of each vehicle, and a police car came across the median from the other side. Several cars pulled off to the side, and several people were getting out to see the fender-bender. They could see the cars beginning to slow down and line up behind the wreck as well.
“Do we stop?” Drew asked his passengers.
“Nah,” Justin answered. “The police are already there, and both of the drivers look fine, the way they are up in each others faces. Just go.”
“Good driving, Drew,” Tommy said. “That’s the way to not kill us all.”
It was a little after ten thirty, and we had just left a gas station for Ginger to use the bathroom-The Tide Pride Gas and Deli--when five miles down the road, we were stopped again.
“Great,” Matt smirked. “The interstate is jammed.”
Michael, Ty and I all peered from the backseat through the windshield to see the line of cars in front of us.
“Must be a wreck,” Ginger suggested. “Surely they wouldn’t be working the day before Christmas Eve. The conditions are prime for bad driving.”
“Are we close to Tuscaloosa?” Ty asked.
“Yeah, about ten miles outside of the city.” Matt replied.
“Take that exit right there,” Ty pointed to an approaching exit about 50 yards down the road. “It’s a back road into Tuscaloosa, and we can bypass all of this traffic.”
“Looks like a pretty barren road,” Michael observed. “Is there anything up there?”
“Not much,” Ty answered, “but it’s a little traveled road that dead ends into another road. Take a left, and that will take you straight to the interstate right at Tuscaloosa.”
It took about five minutes to creep to the exit, and Matt veered to the right. We were the only vehicle to do so, and Matt took off instantly.
We began to feel the effects of the road in the backseat, as the road Ty had directed us to quite possibly was the worst, most twisted road I had ever been on.
“Matt, you really should slow down a little,” Ginger whispered.
“I’m fine,” he replied.
Ty and I both held onto the plastic bars above the doors, while Michael just sat in the middle, wobbling back and forth from the bump of the truck.
Every few hundred feet was another bend in the road, and several times, I felt the wheels under us give a little against the slick pavement. We were on a road that was lodged between a steep tree-covered hill on the left and a drop-off on the right that looked to be about 30 feet or so.
Not wanting to be one to caution from the backseat, I leaned forward and spoke softly. “Matt, its raining, dude, be careful on the turns,” I said, then looking out my passenger window. “There’s a nice drop-off here on this side we don’t want to go spilling into.”
“I got it Dave, I got…” Matt was cut off when the Explorer suddenly jerked to the right. Matt yanked the wheel back to the left in an instant, sending the front in sharply in the direction of the hillside.
“Crap,” Michael whispered.
“Hold on!” Matt gripped the wheel tightly trying to gain control of the truck again. The yank to the left sent the entire vehicle into a spin, with the back end whipping around a full 180 degrees. In the commotion, I could hear Matt pumping the brakes over and over--but by the time all of us realized that we weren't hydroplaning on water, we were skidding on ice, it was all over.
The truck spun again a second later, putting the front back to the original direction. Matt yanked the wheel again to the right to gain control, somewhat over compensating, as he entire vehicle went up into an embankment. For a second it felt as if we were going to tip over, as Michael and Ty both almost fell over on me. Then, in an instant, the truck skidded down the hill in a spin, and with a metal crunching scream, slamming its left passenger side directly into a tree.
I heard Ginger scream as Michael and I both put our heads down and our hands over our faces to protect it from any glass. Matt turned his face to the right side, and moved as far as his seat belt would allow him in that direction. The truck slammed into large tree, as glass sprayed everywhere and we heard the deafening sound of metal crunching and folding.
Though it seemed like an eternity, not more than ten or eleven seconds had gone by from the time Matt lost control to the time it came to a stop.
For another few seconds, again like an eternity, we just sat there in silence. The only sound was the suddenly rough sound of the truck’s engine running. I didn’t look around, I just stared straight ahead, focused on the back of the seat Ginger sat in. My head and neck pounded, and I stared only to keep from passing out.
“Matt?” I asked slowly.
There was a pause, and then Matt, not moving, said, “Yes?”
“The truck is still running. See if you can turn the wheel a little to the right. Maybe we can roll back to the road. We are still on an embankment. I could really use some level ground right now.”
“Oh… okay,” Matt hesitated, as if trying to take in the instructions, then slowly, as if all the words had finally seeped in, turned the steering wheel to the right, and tapped the gently tapped the gas. The truck turned a little, and we rolled off of the slight hill onto the road.
“Let me out, now!” Michael demanded. Ginger quickly opened the door and stepped out. Michael crawled over me and out the front door, sprinting to the other side of the road, overlooking the steep hill. He then leaned over and threw up.
I walked over to Michael and put my hand on his shoulder.
“You okay there, paco?” I quietly asked.
“Yeah, just give me a minute,” he replied, bent over with his hands on his knees. He looked at the scrapes on his hands, and wiped the little beads of blood that were appearing on his pants.
Apparently Ginger had the reaction to the wreck, because she appeared from behind me and threw up, with her breakfast landing close to Michael’s.
“Ging, you okay?” I asked, looking over to her.
“Yeah,” she wiped her mouth and stood up. “I really didn’t enjoy that.”
“Guys!” I heard Matt call from the truck. “Come here!”
“You go see what he wants, I think Ginger and I are going to stand here and throw up for a moment. We’ll bond,” Michael said.
I walked back to the truck where Matt stood. Inside the truck I saw Ty against the smashed side, not moving.
“Guys,” he said quietly, “I think I broke my leg.”
Ty’s left leg above the knee was jammed under the caved metal, while his calf was bent almost in a 90-degree angle. Right below the knee, I could see a small peak in the leg of his pants, which I can only assume was a bone.
Then behind me, came a scream. Matt and I both turned around to where Michael and Ginger stood a few seconds ago. We both looked out over the empty space instead. There was rustling sounds and another yell from both Michael and Ginger.
“Oh, what now?” Matt gritted, as we both ran to the edge of the drop-off.
Michael’s tumble down the hill came to a stop, but before he catch his breath, Ginger fell on him, rolled over and stopped with her head on his stomach.
“Ginger…” Michael said very plainly, “I don’t like pre-engaged girls heads on me.”
He lifted his head up to see Ginger almost break into a half smile.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I would really like to be at The Deuce right now in my underwear, but other than that, I’m fine.”
Matt and I both watched them get up 30 feet below us, and we knew they were okay.
“Matt, you figure out if the truck is drivable. We have to get Ty to a hospital. I’ll figure out what to do about your chick and my roommate at the bottom of this hill.” I directed.
“Yeah,” Matt turned and ran back to the truck. He grabbed a blanket from the back and reached in to cover Ty.
“Hey Michael!” I yelled from the top. “You guys okay?”
“Yeah, we’re fine. I slipped, grabbed Ginger’s arm to steady myself and she came with me.”
“That was pretty stupid.”
“Man, shut up! We have a problem here!”
“Yeah, I know. Ty is hurt!”
“Is he dead!?”
“No, but he has a broken leg! He needs to get to a hospital!”
“What about us?!”
“Can you climb back up?”
Michael and Ginger both looked around the hillside for anything to grab onto. It had its fair share of trees and brushes, but mostly it was covered in ice and snow. He reached up and grabbed a tree, and started to pull himself upwards. When he planted his feet down, he slipped, and fell back down again.
“I don’t know if this is going to work, Ginger,” Michael stood up and tried again. Again, he lost his footing on the slick snow and fell.
“Try over there, the bare spot, where you and Ginger slid down!” I pointed.
“Nice thinking Dave!” Michael yelled back up, “There is nothing to hold on to!”
“David,” Matt came up behind me. “We have to decide something here. Ty is unconscious.”
“Is he dead?”
“No, he's freezing. And bleeding. And he's got a freakin' bone sticking out of his leg.”
“Does the truck run?”
“Yeah, I think so. We somehow managed to hit that tree between the wheels, so there is no axle damage on either end, I guess. But some of the passenger side is caved in, and there's a piece of metal hanging over Ty's leg, which means I can’t move Ty without…”
“…Without possibly damaging his leg further.”
“Hey Dave!” Michael called from down the hill. “What are you guys doing?”
“How’s Ty?” Ginger yelled up.
“Hold on!” Matt responded to them, and then turned back to me. “Now what?”
“Ty said that this road goes to another road, where, if you turn left, you can get to Tuscaloosa. You need to drive him to the hospital.”
“What about Michael and Ginger? I am not leaving Ginger here in this cold weather! Let me grab my cell phone and we can call an ambulance and…”
“Man, do you know where we are?”
“Neither do I. By the time we figure out how to get an ambulance here, Ty could already be at the hospital in town. Matt, you’ve got to take him. I’ll stay here. Michael and I will be here, nothing will happen to Ginger, I promise.”
“So am I just going to send someone back for you?”
“That’s a good idea. We’ll walk back to that gas station we stopped at earlier, it can’t be more than a few miles. We follow this road, I’ll walk up here, they’ll walk down there… eventually we’ll meet up. You can send for us at that gas station off of I-65.”
“Okay, but don’t think that I like this very much.”
“Hey, I don’t like it either. It’s cold out here. But Ty needs medical attention, and right now, Ginger, Michael and I are cold, but we’re okay. Let me get their jackets out of your truck.”
I walked to the door and pulled out Ginger’s, Michael’s and my jackets from the back. I felt horrible for Ty, who sat there motionless. Just to be safe, I stuck my fingers on his neck to make sure there was a pulse. Whew! I thought, as I felt his heartbeat on my middle finger through his neck.
“I’m not dead, David…” Ty mumbled, eyes still shut. “I’m just in a tremendous amount of pain. Whoever put that tree there must have been a Democrat.”
He then fell silent again, presumably because he passed out.
“Get Michael’s cell phone too” Matt instructed. I checked his jacket and made sure it was in there and it was.
“He’s got your number, and you’ve got his, right?” I asked.
“Right,” Matt answered as he climbed through the passenger side door to get behind the wheel. “Remember, take care of her.”
“Matt, I’d rather throw Michael to the wolves than let anything happen to Ginger, and I’m sure he would say the same about me,” I close the door. “Now get Ty some help.”
“I’m dropping him off with the doctors and coming straight back!” Matt said as the truck began to move. In an almost comedic fashion, his back fender fell off as he drove away. I could see the impact of the tree on the side, and that not only was it caved in on Ty, all the glass was completely gone. Looked to be a cold ride for Ty.
“DAVID!” I heard a scream from Michael from down the hill.
I walked to the edge and looked down at Michael and Ginger, who just stood there looking up at me.
“Alright,” I said to myself, “now what happens?”
PARTS 8 - 12