When it comes to turtle stories, we're not Tuckered out yet

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 7, 2010 - 9:11 PM

The tale of Tucker the Turtle strikes a chord in all of us, doesn't it? High or low, rich or poor, we can all identify. Who among us has not been sleeping by the side of the road, our shells all cracked, only to be picked up by a trucker and transported to a distant state for medical care? There but for the grace of God go I, again, we think.

If you're not up to speed: Tucker the Turtle -- his legal name, I believe, although court documents say Tucker T. Turtle -- was minding his own terrapin-related business by the side of the road when a trucker found him and became alarmed at his condition. (If only the trucker's name was Tuttle, it would be perfect; you don't often get to write "Tuttle the Trucker Takes Tucker the Turtle" unless you're a children's book author.)

Tucker's shell was cracked, so the driver thought he would drive him to Minnesota and give him to the Humane Society, leading experts in the new field of shell reconstruction surgery. I don't know what you'd do, actually; duct tape comes to mind, or perhaps some spackle and a bit of paint.

But Tucker's shell was fine. He was an old turtle, and they were old cracks. They didn't heal because turtles have limited access to moisturizers, and even if they did, they can't reach their back. (Some turtles have been known to have itches that remained unscratched for 15, 20 years.)

That would be the end of the story, except that Tucks is a warm-habitat turtle and would not do well in our cold clime. You're thinking: Let him crash on the sofa until spring, right? No: A fellow named Greg Staffa volunteered to drive Tucker back down to Kentucky, and he's leaving Friday, which is great, because for all we know, Tucker left the stove on and has been freaking out.

There's something to the story I don't quite get. So there's a fellow piloting a rig down the highway, nodding along with the music on the radio, thinking about home, wishing that car behind him would back off a yard or two, because you don't want to be tailgating a guy who's constantly scanning the road for injured turtles -- and HELLO, there's one, up ahead! Hits the air brakes.

Guides the rig to the shoulder. A less capable driver might have blown tires and jack-knifed; when you see long black streaks on the road with the detritus of detonated tires, that's probably from a driver who saw a raccoon-shaped heap on the shoulder and stood on the brakes. Is it dead, or is it just sleeping? Lord, I hope I'm not too late.

Don't mean to demean; it was a kind thing to do. But if I were the trucker, I'd adopt Tucker. Take him along. A turtle is an ideal traveling companion. It's clean. Doesn't say much. Can hold it for up to seven years. Will not argue about the radio. McDonald's is fine, even though there's a Wendy's just over there and it's been a while since he had Wendy's, but, whatever.

Will never ask "are we there yet?" because for a turtle, here is always there, and vice versa. If it gets too cold, you can put him in a towel with those toe-warmer packs they sell at Menard's. I mean, there's a song here, if not a gol-dang TV special. In the CB radio era this would have been a movie with Clint Eastwood, and maybe George Burns as Tucker.

One more thing. The phrase "Good Samaritan" always struck me as insulting -- oh, sure, he's a Samaritan, but he's a good one. "Humanitarian" doesn't really apply here, for obvious reasons. "Staffatarian," after the fellow who will take Tucker home, sounds right for people who do a good thing for turtles. Don't expect the word would come up much in daily conversation, but it's there if we need it again.

One more: It would be amusing if Tucker showed up 17 years later, having walked the entire distance, and explained he thought he left his cell phone. You guys find one? No? OK, then. Well, I'll go back home and see if it's in the couch.

jlileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 More daily at www.startribune.com/blogs/lileks

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