Driving through Nebraska, I think it was, a large truck bore down on little old me from behind. I could have accelerated, which I sometimes do, but instead I let him overtake. Once he was all the way past me, I flashed my lights to signal to him that he could move back into the lane -- just to help a driver who isn't always sure where his truck ends. When you do that and the truck moves over, almost invariably he'll blink his tail-lights at you, as a way of saying thanks.
I love these little niceties of the road.
This guy blinked his lights, sure, but as he moved over his wheels also kicked up two little stones. I think I saw one coming, heading straight for my face. I ducked involuntarily, already conscious it was too late. The other, I didn't see. My windshield stopped both, but at the cost of two tiny cracks.
Next chance I got, I called Hertz and confessed my crimes. He advised me to stop at the next Hertz place I found and fill out an "accident report." That next place turned out to be nearly two days later at the Des Moines airport.
The girl who attends to me at the Hertz counter there, it's her first day on the job. To celebrate the occasion, she's dressed in a top that's so low-cut, there are people all over the concourse turning to stare and it's not me they're interested in.
Apart from that, an accident report is something she clearly hasn't seen before. So she has trouble with every detail on the form, from where my name goes ("Name", I point it out) to where I must describe what happened ("Please describe what happened", I point it out) to where my contract number goes (... yes, I point it out).
After this, I have to go meet an old buddy for lunch at the Des Moines Botanical Center, and I need directions. Given this woman's state of revealing cluelessness, I am sure it will be pointless asking her where the Center is. So I go over to a nearby window that's marked "City Information" or some such.
The woman there is, if possible, even more clueless. She takes out a map on which I can see the Center marked, so she circles the words "Botanical Center" in a thick blue highlighter pen and starts telling me how to reach that point. But there is a long line from the two words to a dot several blocks away, and clearly that dot is where the center is. Despite my pointing out the dot and the line, she shakes her head firmly and insists that the Center is where the words are. The dot, she says, is a hospital. I can't see why it should be, but the lady, she pays no attention. It's a hospital! A hospital! she repeats firmly. In thick lines, she begins marking my route from airport to "Botanical Center". Soon, she has reduced the map to a mass of thick blue highlighting that renders the map unusable, apart from being the wrong directions anyway.
Finally, she thrusts the thing into my reluctant hands and allows me to leave. In the parking lot outside, I check with a Hertz attendant. She says, just go up Locust Ave. Right at the end, when you see the Embassy Suites hotel, turn left and that will take you straight to the Botanical Center.
Sure enough, on the back of this blue-highlighted map, there's a larger-scale map of downtown on which I can see that this attendant's directions make perfect sense. The Center is marked precisely where she says I'll find it, corresponding exactly to the dot that's buried under blue on the other side.
At the Center, I have time before my buddy reaches to reflect on the joys that cracks in a windshield bring you.