Tale of a minor, situational Superman (as if)

This story is going to sound a bit like bragging. A couple times. You’ve been warned.

It was probably back in the early ’90s, maybe. I was going to a small convention in a town (Crested Butte, if I remember right) deep in the Colorado Rockies. I’d like to say “small” town, but when you’re deep in the Rockies, that’s pretty much a given. The mountainous areas are blessedly short of major urban centers.

It’s the social night before the educational programs the following day. I meet and greet some, pushing through my social awkwardness to have as good a time as possible with friends and colleagues, and two young ladies show up. They’re on the student side of things, attending this convention on our association’s student plan, trying to network, looking to gain the benefit of our Ancient Wisdom. But in their search for all of that, they say there’s a problem with their car outside, and can someone please help them. I say sure, one reason being that my social awkwardness was starting to catch up in a serious way, and we leave the party and head out to do something constructive and nonsocial.

Well, it’s not an engine problem. It’s not “where’s my gas cap” problem. Or even “change my tire” problem. And not even “I can’t start the car” problem. No, it was much more interesting than that.

What happened was, as accented by the empty vodka bottle(s) in the back of their car, they had tried to park in a somewhat elevated parking lot that unfortunately didn’t have parking blocks to bump into to let them know when to stop. No, as I’m surveying the situation in the darkened lot, I see that they have driven the front wheels of their little Honda (Civic? Accord? Probably Civic, as you’ll see) off the edge of the elevated surface. Doing this has predictably stopped the car.

We’re looking at this from the lower-level parking lot, about three feet down from the elevated pavement, studying this car face-to-face, eye-to-headlight, with the Honda’s front wheels now hanging over the edge, and the car all unhappy and immobile.

“Can you help?” Hell, I don’t know. Ladies, you have driven the car off the edge of the pavement. But let’s take a look.

I vault up to the higher level where the Honda’s sprawled out. I know that the car will ultimately have to be rolled back from the edge and parked properly. All that needs for that to happen is to get the front wheels back up onto the pavement. Some lifting, hefting, pushing the car back should do it. I mean, it’s not a big car. I open the door, make sure the parking brake is disengaged and the transmission is in neutral, get back out, and jump back down to the lower level.

“Here’s the deal. We’re going to have to lift the car and roll it back onto this upper level, and you can then park it properly and lock it up. Okay?”

They look at each other and nod, Okay, yeah, sure, what the hell, whatever.

I bend down and scoot under the front end of the car, underneath its exposed underside. Serendipitously, with my back against the undercarriage, it’s just about the right height for me to have maximum leg thrust to push up against it and maybe lift it.

And now, a side note. I have weirdly strong legs. It’s like my superpower. I have chicken wrists, and I can’t hurl a bowling ball like my stocky (fat) looks would indicate, my wife and daughter throw a ball better than I do, and make no mistake, I have plenty of physical insufficiencies – but I have weirdly strong legs. At the club, before I got this old, I’d put the max weight on the leg press, 300-plus pounds, and rip away 20 reps, no worries. Even now, I can lift the stack on the leg press, although let’s not say “no worries” anymore, because nowadays my knees will be growling and crying. Now, this leg-strength superpower has never done me all that much good up to this point in my life, but it’s just weird, okay? Digression over.

So back to the car story. I step from underneath the car and direct each girl to a front corner of the bumpers. “I’m going to count to three. When I say ‘three,’ lift with all your might, and I think we can get this baby back onto the pavement.”

They seem willing, if dubious. I get back under the car, test it again, am ready, and say, “One… two… three!”

I heave as mightily as I dare. The car rises some, then hesitates, and but having gotten this far, I cannot lose this effort, and the adrenalin hits, and I push up yet harder, legs straining a little bit more than I actually imagined they could, and the car rolls up, safe now, and back onto the upper level of the pavement.

I look up, satisfied. “See there? Told you we could do it!”

One girl looks at the other. “I wasn’t pushing. I didn’t think we could do it.” The other girl says, guiltily, “Not me. I didn’t think so, either.”

We secure the car, return to the socializing, and have a nice chat after all that. I will say the next day, my flexors and extensors from the waist down let me know that I’d lifted more than I should’ve. Nothing injured, but… well, the body was telling me to bring the male-ego weightlifting display down a notch from now on.

So here’s a minor brag within the bigger brag, but I’ll tie it together. Years later, I got the Big Award that year within this group, and after the presentation, I’m in the bar, in decompression mode with my colleagues. They’re congratulating me. They’re not letting me buy my own beer. I’m feeling the love.

But remember those two student ladies? One of them was there, in this group, ensconced in the profession. So with my fellow professionals lavishing praise on me, which unfortunately went to my head, and I turned to that woman and said, with high humor, in basic terms, “Hey, remember when?”

Here’s an example of why I don’t trust storied accounts, whether divine, mundane, news reports, whatever. Why, yes, she did remember. Yes, years later, the incident was still fresh in her mind. She said loudly to the gathering, “OMG, he was our Superman! We were tanked up, wailing, desperate, and he swooped in and told us he could take care of it, grabbed the car, and flung it back up to the lot! He was incredible!”

It was only exaggeration by a factor of a hundred or so. To my shame, I didn’t explain what actually happened. I just wallowed in the adulation. Another reason I don’t trust these types of stories. When they’re good enough, no one wants to correct them.

So still sometimes, I get a query when someone’s heard the latest iteration of the story, “You lifted a car?” I reply, “Only one end, and it was only a Honda.” It seems so modest that way.

Look, I told you I was bragging here, okay?

— Grandpa

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