A Bumper Dent of Gratitude

First, a confession: I’m a pretty safe driver, except when it comes to nudging the edges of my car against immovable objects at very slow speeds. Once upon a time, this was not much of a problem because cars came equipped with sturdy bumpers that were not easily scratched or dented. Apparently, they were not glamorous enough or perhaps chrome became too costly. Hence, the automotive powers-that-be decreed they should, like the legs of piano during the Victorian Era, be covered. Not only that, they should be covered not with something so flimsy as to crumple if one breathes too heavily in its general direction.I love the 2004 Prius I bought from a friend. It came with much good karma, for my purchase of it helped enable her to go to India to study with her guru. It also accorded me the joy of sniggering as I drove by gas stations. At 50 mpg, I didn’t have to fill up often. But…

But the Prius, despite its other admirable qualities, has two pertinent design flaws. One, I cannot see where its corners are. (Neither can my husband, who is over six feet tall.) Two, its outer construction is cosmetically unforgiving. Not long after I adopted it, I witnessed these two flaws in action in the parking lot of our branch library. My version is that I barely tapped the bumper of an enormous truck (which showed not the slightest hint of damage). I was positive that my old Mazda Protege would have fit into that space with room to spare. Alas, my Prius disagreed. Instead of a dent of the sort that might be easily ignored, a cavity the size of Tycho Crater now adorned my rear bumper.

Negotiation was of no avail. Neither were tears, sulks, or blaming the driver of the truck (who had, after all, not confined his vehicle to the designated space). There it was, and I had a choice. I could drive around with this enormity for all the world to see, a sort of Scarlet Letter of Careless Driving. Or I could shell out the dough to get it fixed.

“You want WHAT to fix one little dent?” I cried. Duke (I kid you not, that’s his name, and he does NOT have a Southern accent), the proprietor of the body shop recommended by our sterling mechanic, told me, “We’ll repair this one if we can, but we’ll have to take it off and repaint it.” He did save the bumper cover and returned the car to me, looking pristine. And minus its rear carpool sticker. The State of California, suspicious entity that it is, refused to reissue the sticker without documentation that it had been removed for legitimate purposes. Maybe they think there’s a black market in them, because the stickers self-destruct rather than permit themselves to be detached and reapplied.

After submitting all the requisite documentation that the bumper cover was indeed removed, stripped and repainted, I received a new sticker. Huzzah! All was well, except for a few scratches, easily minimized by the application of “touch up” paint. Such paint presents an interesting challenge, for it comes in a little tube with a brush of the sort used for nail polish. But I was happy…and careful…until…

There always is an “until,” isn’t there? Despite my best intentions, not to mention a heroic effort to develop “good” habits, inattention struck. Crunch! At about a hundredth of a mile per hour, too. I stared at another enormosity, this time on the right front fender where everyone was sure to notice, unable to quite comprehend that I had done it AGAIN. But there it was, and no amount of self-reproach could make it go away.

This time, repair was out of the fiscal question. Even in my most cringing state, I recognized that I could not shell out that kind of money every time a story idea popped into my head while I was pulling into a parking space. Maybe, I thought wistfully, Duke can apply a giant plunger and pop it back out. I didn’t have a lot of hope, but decided it was better to go through the motions.

“Well,” said Duke. “It’s in a bad place, but we’ll soften it up under a heat lamp and see what we can do.”

I came back later in the day, fully expecting to hear that not only could the dent not be popped out, but it now resembled the resting place of someone liquified by the Elder Gods. Duke grinned at me. “Take a look.”

It was as if a bad dream had suddenly turned itself inside out. Cthulhu had become Santa Claus. The bumper cover was not perfect, but it was rounded, not maliciously concave, and the little scratches had been touched up. There was just enough damage remaining to remind me of my folly, and just enough repair to elicit a feeling of incredible relief. Now came the best part.

“How much do I owe you?” I said.

Duke shook his head. “Forget about it. Glad to be of service.” He didn’t quite call me “ma’am,” and he wouldn’t back down.

Every time I see that neatly but imperfectly restored bumper cover, I do not think of how mistakes can be covered up or that because I am fallible, I am inadequate. I think how wonderful it is to live in a world in which there are such kind, generous people, people who take care of one another. My sense of perspective shifts.

I feel grateful to be able to pass it on.

If you live near Santa Cruz and need body work, you can’t do better than to see Duke at Ladd’s Body Shop in Felton.


Deborah J. Ross has been writing science fiction and fantasy professionally since the early 1980s. Her most recent book, Hastur Lord, has just been released from DAW.


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