Talk about creepy jobs that come into the shop, this ranks up there as one of the oddest. I have a regular customer with a company that picks up and delivers the deceased for funeral homes, private pickup from homes, and hospitals. His fleet of vehicles travels across the country picking up and delivering bodies wherever they need to go. Yes, that's what I said… bodies, and they are always busy. (Well, somebody has got to do it.) Here at the shop we gave them the nickname "Body Snatchers". Most of the vehicles from the outside look like your typical soccer mom minivans or a 4 wheel drive vehicle with the windows heavily tinted. (Gotta have 4 wheel drive vehicles for all the different weather conditions.)
If one of these vans pulled up alongside of you… you wouldn't know it from any other car. From the outside they look like normal, just like any other car. The difference is… there are no back seats… only a flat board with room for two gurneys, a stack of body bags, plastic gloves, absorbent towels, and lots and lots of air freshener. There are no outside markings, no name on the side, not even a commercial license plate. Completely incognito … no one would know.
I've been doing the work on these vans for quite a few years now, and I've seen a lot of weird stuff in regards to this morbid work they do. Actually the most fun is when they are dropping a van off and it's loaded with their "customers". They'll back another van up to the first one and transfer the "cargo" from one to the other. Watching the looks you get from people in our waiting room when all this is taking place is priceless.
One of my least favorite things to do is work on the A/C systems. The smell… oh the smell… it creeps into every crevasse of the duct work. Take a real warm summer afternoon with the car sitting outside waiting to get into the shop, and you get to be lucky guy who turns the blower motor on for the first time. Oh, I'm telling you… it will knock you to your knees with the stench.
Most of the vehicles have hundreds of thousands of miles on them. At last count the average miles I recorded on one of their vans was around 350,000 miles. There are a couple of the vans with over 500,000 showing on the odometer.
A few years ago they brought in one on the back of a tow truck. It was a white van that didn't have a straight piece left on it. The top was smashed in, most of the windows were broken, and several tires were flat. Definitely a roll over, so I knew I wasn't going to fix this one back up, but was more than likely going to grab some spare parts off of it for the rest of the fleet. (It was one I just put a motor in, too.)
After the tow truck got it back on the pavement out in the parking lot of the shop, I got a closer look at it. You could tell everything in the van had taken a tumble by the way it was strewn all over the place.
I talked to the driver the next day when he came by to finish cleaning out the van. He was totally unhurt, but had an interesting story to tell me about the wreck. I've got to admit, it takes a special type of person to drive around with a couple of dead bodies in the back. Especially when they have to go from one state to another to retrieve a body, it's got to be a different type of ride home for sure. So one thing you better have is a good sense of humor and not to take things so seriously that it affects your job performance. This guy knew how to handle a situation.
His story went like this;
"I was on my way back with two bodies; it was late at night when a deer darted out in front of the van. I swerved to miss it, and ended up sliding down an embankment on the side of the van; it did roll over once but came to rest on its other side. I wasn't going fast, but it was still quite a ride. I climbed out and waited for the police."
When the police got there he was sitting by the van making a phone call to the office.
The state trooper asked him, "Is there anyone else in the van with you?"
With a calm soothing voice of a funeral home director, the driver answered the trooper. "Yes, but they have already passed away."
The driver then told me, "The poor state trooper turned as white as a ghost when I told him that." (Funny guy, even in such a situation… I kind a like this fella.)
It took some explaining before the trooper's color returned to normal. By then another van from the company was there to help with the recovery of the "passengers" while the trooper did his best to explain the accident over his radio.
I can just imagine the call, "A roll over wreck, affirmative, three occupants, two passengers are dead, driver unhurt. NO, I don't need an ambulance, send a wrecker… NO, the driver is taking care of the two dead bodies. YES, that's right … three occupants in the vehicle, two were already dead… No, I don't know how they died. Yes, the driver knows they are dead; he's already got them strapped to gurneys." This poor trooper had some major explaining to do.
I eventually pulled the useable parts off the old van and sent the rest to the crusher for its final demise. The whole time I was tearing down the van I kept thinking about how this driver explained things to the trooper. He has the kind of a sense of humor that can take any bad looking situation and make light of the whole thing. I wish I could have been there when he explained it to the trooper the way he did. I probably couldn't have kept a straight face thru the whole thing, and I'll bet the trooper has got a new story to tell his buddies after all said and done.
Just what everyone ought to have, a mortician with a comedic edge. I guess you could say; even on a dead day this driver finds a way of livening things up.
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