The doors creaked shut behind me as I approached the sparsely decorated room located in the basement of the local steel supply house and stared blankly at the occupants. The room was average in size, with a nondescript folding table off in the front corner that held an industrial size coffeemaker, which several folks desperately waited in line for. From any vantage point on the street outside this building, it was unlikely that you could guess what was transpiring two floors below this mecca of metal fabrication commerce. It was 6 a.m. on a Sunday, late in the month of June, and the coffee machine was the group's only form of solace or distraction. I shrugged off the glares of the motley group as I entered and grabbed a seat between two large fellows at the rear of the room. I was nervous, but still, I felt pretty good for a guy who just walked in off the street. Hell, I made it to the meeting and that's half the battle, right?
Our master of ceremonies, or rather, the guy taking the money from our wallets, stood up from his chair behind the podium and beckoned everyone to return to their seats. Several guys, who looked like they just climbed out from beneath a '67 Chevy with a transmission leak, parked themselves in the row of seats in front of me and nervously chain-smoked a pack of Camels together. I listened to them chatter, the conversation sounding much like the bench of the L.A. Dodgers' dugout during a mean losing streak, with its staccato pace and hushed tone. I recognized them from the Pomona swap meet and could tell from their gestures that they sure as hell remembered me.
Once everyone had settled down long enough to pay even the smallest bit of attention, our fearless leader, Tom, began again. There was no roll call, and for the most part, no one knew one another, save for three guys seated in front of me. Indeed, we had met before. We were strangers unwittingly united by a common foe, and today was the first day of our rehabilitation.
"You are not alone," Tom said.
Sure, I thought. Just get to the part where you say I'm sane and run off with my money, OK?
"There is nothing wrong with you. You've not broken the law, but you are, in fact, hurting the ones you love."
Several burly looking guys with greaser haircuts leave the room. I can hear the pea-shooter exhaust of '50 Ford that brought them here rattle the windows as they screeched out of the parking lot upstairs.
"You came here willingly, which is the first step toward living a normal life, and it's crucial that you adhere to the instructions I'm about to give you. These instructions will be rules to live by, rules that will help save your marriage, your relationships with loved ones, and above all, your sanity."
Now I'm starting to get a tingling feeling in my stomach. I get up from my chair, using the big guy on my left's arm as a crutch to lift myself up. He hardly notices as I walk quickly to the coffee machine. I hate coffee. I never drink it. The smell of burnt beans makes my gut churn, but right now chugging a cup of Joe seems like a great idea.
"The first step toward salvation is admitting that you need help with your addiction."
I was getting even antsier now. I'm not addicted to anything. Women and beer, maybe, but that doesn't count.
"The next step is cutting out the free radicals from your life and changing your lifestyle. You can't expect to become a better person, if you're still visiting your old haunts."
What's he talking about? I'm not moving anywhere.
"And you'll certainly have to cut ties with the friends that got you into trouble in the first place."
I was fuming. I'm not ditching my friends for anybody.
"It all starts here. Now, I want you to take a deep breath and make a promise to everyone in this room for yourself. You have to do this. It's all part of the process."
The group slowly stood up. I could see some guys with their heads down as if they were praying for a miracle-a magic carpet ride out of this God-forsaken room. My knees were getting weak.
"Now repeat after me: I am strong. I can beat this. I can stop right now and save myself."
The lowly group repeated after Tom with vague assurance.
"I will stop reading the Auto Trader magazines. I will not go to the swap meet just to see if any new vendors came this month. I will not browbeat anyone selling a classic truck when I know full well that I can't afford it, don't have room for it, and don't need it. I will decrease my web-surfing activities by half each day. I will cancel my account at eBay. I will..."
I didn't even let Tom finish. I let out a shriek and bolted out of the room, spilling coffee all over my Vans. I ran up the stairs like a man possessed, rushing past several minitruckers who came late for the meeting. As I burst onto the sales floor of the metal shop, I desperately looked for the entrance. Although I practically lived at this place, buying chrome-moly tubing and aluminum stock for my project trucks during the past 5 years, I could no longer find the front door. I was desperate.
Was this man crazy? How could he ask me to do such things? It was unconscionable, unthinkable, un-American even.
In a fit of anguish and fear, I grabbed several aluminum welding rods for the TIG welder that I don't even own. I stuffed a small shopping basket with gloves, a tape measure, and tin snips and ran to the front counter, slamming the cheap plastic basket of materials onto the metal countertop. The guy behind the counter, Mike, looked at me like my head was on backwards and asked what my hurry was.
"Nothing. Just get me out of here." I threw a hundred dollar bill on the counter and spotted the entrance door on my right and my dualie in the parking lot. I ran for my life, without taking my parts, my change, my mind...
I woke up this morning lying in a pool of sweat, breaking out of the daze of the worst nightmare I've ever had in my life. I dreamt that I had been arrested for owning too many project trucks, for working too many hours on projects that I'd never finish, and for storing tons of seemingly useless junk. I dreamt that I lived in a world where I was deemed unfit for society because I love all trucks. It was ugly. It was wrong. Don't let this happen to you. See you next month, and hopefully I'll have a good night's sleep by then.