Tow-trucks and cantaloupes

van with cop

Back last year when I got installed in Sichuan, the company set me up with a few apartments, one in Chengdu, one in Chongqing, some more in a few mid-tier cities, a village outpost here and there. I was free to pop around the region, visit with officials, drop by to connect with various cardiovascular institutes, hospital departments and industry groups. Meetings with physicians to take their temperatures on prescribing practices, brand loyalty, stuff like that. I was on the move a lot. I had my beat. I liked it. Mostly the company was good and the jokes in poor taste – crusty-ass country dudes with long pinky nails, dirt poor roots, big dreams, terrible manners and gaudy accessories.

After I settled into a routine I worried less than I had in the beginning. When I first arrived, I figured I’d be dodging Public Security and immigration guys left and right – after all, here I was, some nobody without a passport or Alien Employee License flogging blood thinners and greasing the skids. Eventually, someone was bound to notice that I’d never registered at my apartment and that no one had ever seen my documentation. So one of the first things I did was buy a whip with a pile of cash and park it down the road from my apartment in Chengdu. I figured, hell, if it all goes to the dogs I’ll take to my funny looking van – named after a loaf of bread in the local parlance – and boom: new roads ahead.

But like I said, I got complacent and steady in my ways, and I started spending less time in Chengdu and mostly wandered from small towns to villages and back, in a meandering loop that did wonders for my employer’s quarterly regional projections and my psyche in equal measure. So whatever emphasis I initially placed on the van-as-escape-pod eventually shifted to the back of my mind, which is how I ended up with a vehicle in the state that you see above. Frankly I forgot about the thing. The weeds had a goddamn field day. Look at those fuckers.

Anyway, by the time I got back to my van I had been rolling through the countryside on the sly for about two weeks. A friend of mine had given me a call and told me some dudes in bad suits had dropped by the Fourth People’s Hospital of [REDACTED] Affiliated to the [REDACTED] University of [REDACTED] and were looking for a salesman named Roger – a bad sign for anyone around that time, given the expanding corruption probe. Not to mention my legal status and the ethical ambiguity of some of the tactics we used.

I couldn”t believe the van. Were it not for the license plate peeking out who knows what might have been under there. I was about as surprised to see the weeds as I was to spy the cop poking around and asking my neighbors questions. Luckily they didn”t know it was mine. I hadn”t driven the thing since I first parked it.

I backtracked a block or three until I found a dude squatting streetside smoking a cigarette in front of his auto repair stall. Turned out he knew a guy with a tow-truck – in China, everybody knows a guy – and he was willing to part with it for a price. I had money for the tow, and with a bit of smooth talk and a few more bones he agreed to chauffeur me all the way to Shanghai. Certainly the van wasn”t driving anywhere on its own. And I don”t know how to operate a tow-truck.

I bought two eight-packs of single-shot fireworks – you know the ones, loud-as-hell red cardboard tubes that don’t do anything fancy – and poured the powder into a small blue bucket I bought next door. I tied six or seven fuses together and walked back to the block where I parked my van. I handed a melon vendor a stack of money and bought him out, cart and all.

I pulled melons from the center and piled them high at the edges. I put the bucket in the middle and let the cantaloupes settle around it. I lit the 18-inch fuse and pushed the cart into the street. I walked down the block towards my van.

Picture this: A resounding ka-thwUMPPP; rustling shock, a big-league echo, moments of complete silence; the pitter patter of cantaloupe shards settling; the inevitable rush of onlookers, gaping, chattering about. I kept walking.

I watched the cop run by. A few paces later I came to the van. The tow-truck operator was reversing into position. I parted the vines, opened the passenger door and took a seat, ready for a drive.

van on highway

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2 Responses to Tow-trucks and cantaloupes

  1. Rick Weir
    October 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    THAT is a great story… Did you wear your seatbelt during the tow?


  1. Hao Hao Report - November 4, 2013

    Someone thinks this story is hao-tastic

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it.

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