A Christmas Story

A decades-old story of friendship.

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This is a story of friendship that wends through many years and ends with a Ferrari. So it's car-related.

Twenty-five years ago, I shared a house with a bunch of medical residents who worked at County/USC hospital, enduring those famous 24-hour shifts serving the most desperate members of our society while still doing the dishes and keeping the living room relatively clean. If you ever get shot, stabbed or run over in greater Los Angeles, have them take you to County first because they'll save your life. You might want to transfer somewhere else for follow-up care.

It was an amazing experience for me, who was just some idiot car writer who saved no one ever except maybe from boredom, seeing how hard all these guys worked and yet how much humanity they managed to retain. Me, I would've gone nuts.

One night, a Christmas Eve, I found myself visiting one of them at the hospital as he worked his rounds. It was late at night; only a few lights were left on in the wards to illuminate the occasional cardboard reindeer taped to the walls in a desperate attempt at festive effect. He went from bed to bed, tending to and counseling the homeless people, gang members, prostitutes and the simply unlucky, all of whom were in there as a result of either tragic circumstance or their latest round of very bad decisions. Most had a little of both.

My friend didn't care why they were there; his job was to fix them up and send them back out, usually to do it again, I cynically thought. My friend didn't think that. He didn't pass judgment, didn't scold, counsel or cajole. He inspired. When he walked into a room full of despair, he lit it up. I know because I was walking right behind him. Faces that hadn't smiled in weeks, months, ever, suddenly beamed. He gave high-fives. He arm wrestled (those with a good arm). He sang. He sang his way through the worst, most hopeless place in a city that had more than its share of hopelessness. He sang to give them all hope, I told myself. He sang to inspire them and to show that there might be more to life than ... aw, what did I know? He was making them happy at the lowest point of their lives.

"Faaaaall on your knees, oh hear the angels calling!" he wailed, as a night nurse—who looked like she'd been on the job for about 400 years—remained stoic. "Oh niiiiiiight divine!"

I looked at her without trying to look like I was looking. She smiled. He's now one of LA's best spinal surgeons. A few years ago, he healed a patient whom no other doctor had been able to heal. The guy was so thankful to be free of pain, he took him into a warehouse full of Ferraris. My friend didn't know from Ferraris.

"Pick one," the guy said.

My friend saw one he liked and pointed. The guy winced a little, then handed over a beautiful red 250 SWB California Spyder. I saw him driving it the other day. He was singing. I smiled.

West Coast Editor MARK VAUGHN reminds us here that car culture is all-encompassing—and good. He can be reached at mark.vaughn@hearst.com or on Twitter and Instagram @MVaughnAW

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