Epiphanies

The Drive Through

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The aftermath of a crash

By Brian Doyle

September 6, 2013


 

At the bank this morning I get to talking to the young teller about the time a couple of years ago when an elderly man drove his Oldsmobile through the west wall of the bank. It was an accident, and unbelievably no one was hurt, not even the driver, who felt awful about the whole thing, and later sent flowers and a handwritten note to every employee who was there that day.

It was terrifying, of course, said the teller quietly. I mean, people joked about it, but we were terrified. It was so loud and shocking and scary. The windows just exploded. We thought it was a bomb. There was glass everywhere, and the financial advice desk was smashed to bits. No one was sitting there, which was a miracle. The poor driver. He just hit the wrong pedal and his shoe got stuck, apparently. He was terrified, as you can imagine. He was the nicest man, too. He had an account here for more than 30 years. One result of the accident was that he moved his account to another bank because he was too embarrassed to come in any more. We all liked him very much. He always wore a tie. He brought us Christmas cookies every year. Macaroons, with lots of cinnamon.

One thing that no one says when they talk about things like this, said the young teller, is that there are split seconds between when it happens and when your brain registers you are in major trouble and when your body reacts, you know? So it took us a half-second to duck down behind the counter here. The girl next to me actually grabbed the skirt of the girl next to her and yanked her down so hard, the third girl sprained her ankle. That was the only injury that day, even with all the broken glass.

But the thing that is most memorable to me, said the young teller, isn’t the crash, or the terror of it, or how it took us months to get back to normal. What I’ll always remember the rest of my life is the way, when the dust settled and we started to cautiously stand up from behind our desks and the counter, we all looked for each other to see if we were all okay. This is just a bank, you know, it’s just a place to work, it’s not like we are a family or a real team or anything like that, although we all get along great. But everyone immediately looked to see if everyone else was okay. Not just the people you liked the best but everyone. There were six of us here that morning, plus the driver, of course, and there was a time there, maybe a minute, when it was actually almost silent, and we were all looking around through the dust and glass and checking to see if anyone was hurt.

Still, there was something more to it than that. I don’t know the right word for what I mean. That’s what I’ll remember the most. Then we all came out from where we were and went to help the poor driver, and by then people were running in to help, and then very soon policemen and firemen were there, and all the rest of what you would think would happen, given an accident like that. But that minute when we were all looking for each other, that stays with me. We talked about it a little, for the first few weeks afterwards, but then people got transferred or took other jobs, and now it’s a couple years ago, the accident, and no one even talks about it much anymore.

You want both of these checks to go to checking, or the little one in savings, perhaps?

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine and the author of numerous books, most recently the novel The Plover.

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