Monday morning, sometime between 4 and 5 a.m., I woke to hear the crunch of metal and voices…

I drifted off to sleep, thinking I’d been dreaming, but closer to 5:30 a.m., the rumbling engine and flashing lights of a tow truck woke me up for good.

I stepped out onto the front porch to get a better look.

At the corner of my block, a North Shore tow truck operator was hooking up a van…a van that didn’t really look quite right.

In bare feet, I walked down my front steps to the sidewalk, peering at the scene.

“You really walking around with bare feet?” said a deep voice. I looked up from the broken pieces of glass and plastic and metal all over the sidewalk to see the tow truck driver talking to me.

“What happened?” I asked, noticing tire marks running from the street through the grass, stopping abruptly at a tree in the neighbor’s parkway.

“Someone sideswiped your neighbor’s car and knocked it up onto the curb. Then they must have kept going. Missed the mailbox and the planter… finally stopped when the van hit the tree.”

I looked at the driver with wide eyes, now understanding why the van’s front end was completely pushed in.

Under the street lamp, the tow truck driver poured a sandy mixture over a trail of oil left from the van’s destructive path. It occurred to me at that moment that, had the van’s driver not hit the neighbor’s tree, he would have plowed directly into my husband’s car, parked on the street. I examined our car, noting how pieces of the tree had dropped onto the roof and hood, no doubt when the van smashed into it.

“Oh my God…” I said, taking in the eerie scene. “Was anyone hurt?” I asked, staring at the van’s cracked windshield.

“Don’t know,” the tow truck driver said. “When I got here, there was a guy…not sure if he was the driver or the driver’s father…”

I noticed the name DAN embroidered on his North Shore Towing uniform. He pointed to my neighbor’s house and said, “Your neighbor can’t be too happy. His car got sideswiped before the van ran into the tree.”

“That’s awful,” I said, thinking about my neighbors who’ve lived here just over a year now. Another neighbor refers to the spot their car was parked at (at the corner of Greenleaf and Maple) as “The Suicide Spot” because she’s been sideswiped there at least two or three times.

“I’ll be right back,” I said. “I’m going to get my camera.”

“But I didn’t comb my hair,” he said, dead serious. Then he smiled.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll make sure to use soft focus…”

I walked back to my porch, avoiding chunks of plastic and metal on the sidewalk and lawn. As I went into the house to find some shoes and a camera, I thought to myself, What kind of an idiot drives like that? He’s lucky he didn’t kill someone.

But then, as I walked back to the tow truck driver hooking the mangled van up to the winch, I took a good look at the van. It had clearly been in terrible shape even before the accident. Maybe the steering or the brakes went out, I thought. Maybe the driver couldn’t afford to get a repair…and he was finishing the night shift….thinking about his family…tired…

“My hair look okay?” Dan asked.

“You bet,” I said. “Wow. Thank you for making sure all this oil is covered up.” He covered every slick spot, using an entire bag of gritty sand.

“Don’t need to thank me. It’s my job,” he said.

“So you work the night shift?” I asked, snapping photos of the scene.

“Five p.m. to six a.m., six days a week,” he said.

“That’s a lot,” I said, realizing how cold the night air felt.

“Well, thank you,” I said. “There’ll be a lot of cars and students at this corner in a few hours. Do you mind if I actually take your picture next to your truck? I might use it for an article for”

“It’s not my truck,” Dan said. “It’s the company’s truck. But sure.” He posed quickly, then turned to get right back to work.

Pointing to the North Shore Towing logo, I said, “Bet you get a lot of angry customers, don’t you?”

“Doesn’t bother me,” he said. “It’s my job. If you park where you’re not supposed to, I’ll tow your car away… right in front of you if I have to.”

I nodded. “Fair point,” I said.

“I also put boots on cars,” he said. I swear he had a little gleam in his eye.

“I guess rules are rules,” I said, turning off my camera and wondering how many unpaid parking tickets I might have. “Well, have a nice Thanksgiving and thanks again.”

As I walked inside and started making coffee, I thought about everyone affected by the accident out front.

I hoped the van’s driver is okay…

…and that my neighbor’s car won’t be too expensive or difficult to fix…

…and that Dan from North Shore Towing gets the chance to have a nice Thanksgiving dinner before he starts his 5pm shift on Thursday. I think he deserves one.