Point Clear never really had enough year-round residents to support a whole bunch of services. If you had a fire, you called the Barnwell Fire Department. Needed police, you called the Fairhope Police Department. If you needed a tow, you really were in trouble. You had to call “Nasty Dick Turner.”
Nasty Dick was a cranky white-haired man my grandfather’s age. I’d seen his tow truck pass, and I’d heard my mother talk about the one time she’d had to call him.
“Lady, you must be the stupidest woman I ever met!” he said to her. He grew into a legend to us kids. Dick Turner was always mad.
Before I got my driver’s license, I was riding with an older friend through downtown Fairhope. I saw Nasty Dick’s tow truck pull to a stop at an intersecting street ahead. It was like spotting a celebrity.
“There he is!” I exclaimed. “Nasty Dick Turner!”
My friend wasn’t from Fairhope. “Who’s that?” he asked.
“I’ll show you, ” I said.
We were just about to pass him when I leaned across the seat and tapped on my friend’s horn. One might think Nasty Dick was shot in the butt with a BB gun. He was on his horn before ours even sounded, hair-triggered with a sixth sense for mischief. Horn blaring, he erupted into a muted cursing frenzy from behind his window glass like someone gone insane in an aquarium. My friend, terrified, swerved wide into the other lane. The sound of Nasty Dick’s horn fell away behind us.
“Wow, ” my friend exclaimed.
“I told you, ” I said. “You don’t ever want to call Nasty Dick.”
I’d had my driver’s license one week. My friend, Archie, and I found ourselves at my house, pondering rumors started by the older boys at school about a tailgate somewhere near the Fairhope airport. I had a vague sense that I needed permission to go driving around the countryside at night, but my parents were out for the evening. Besides, it was just a bunch of farm roads out there. How dangerous could it be?
When we started east on County Road 32, it began to rain. After about 30 minutes we gave up on finding the party. I turned onto another blacktop and started toward home. We hadn’t gone far before the asphalt suddenly ended, and we found ourselves fishtailing out of control on a rain-slicked dirt road. A moment later we were sunk to the chassis in a muddy, freshly turned potato field.
Even if my parents had been home, the last thing I wanted to do was call Dad for help. I didn’t need this on my record after only a week.
We hiked back up the sticky road to the distant light of a farmhouse. The woman who answered the door said she had no way of pulling us from the field. Before I could stop her, she was calling Dick Turner.
“We’re dead, ” I told Archie. Thirty minutes later, we were back at the car, watching the tow truck turn off the highway and start toward us. I had a sick feeling in my gut and wondered if he remembered me from the horn incident.
Dick got out and stood in his headlights, shifted his pants and greeted us. “How in hell did you manage this?!” he barked.
We stood quietly while he winched us back onto the dirt road and wrote out a ticket and gave it to me: $35. It was only then that I realized I didn’t have any money and neither did Archie.
“Can we charge it?”
“Charge it?! Charge it to what?!”
“I don’t know. Like Fairhope Hardware. Like pay later.”
Dick Turner leaned close to me and said. “Boy, let me tell you somethin’. That money better be in my mailbox before sunup, or I’m callin’ the police.”
I nodded. “Yes, sir, ” I said. “No problem. Where do you live?”
He turned and stomped toward his truck. “Figure it out!” he yelled over his shoulder.
As we made our way back to Point Clear, I began to appreciate the challenge that lay before me. I had to get home, somehow come up with $35, somehow find Dick Turner’s mailbox, get the money there and get back home to wash my car before my parents returned.
I was absolutely certain that if I did not pay Dick Turner what I owed him that night he was going to have me arrested.
We searched the house, scraping every bit of change we could from beneath the sofa and out of Dad’s change box. We came up with about $9.
Fortunately, my older next-door neighbor was just returning from a date with her boyfriend. I saw their headlights sweep across the house windows. We crept outside and hid in the bushes until she got out of the car. I asked her if she had $26, and she said she had some babysitting money she could loan me.
We found Dick Turner’s address in the phone book. A moment later, Archie and I were on the highway again. After some winding about in downtown Fairhope we managed to find the mailbox, stuff it full of our cash and pour in the loose change. Then, we hurried home in time to wash my car and catch the opening credits of David Letterman just as my parents came through the front door.
I’m sure Dick Turner made a lot of people think twice before getting stuck again. I suppose it’s actually healthy to be scared of the local tow truck driver.
Text by Watt Key