Two years ago, Thomas Weller, San Diego's "Highwayman," decided not to get behind the wheel at night because he was worried he'd pose a danger on the road. Weller, who has spent the past 40 years driving his 1955 Ford wagon searching San Diego's highways for stranded motorists in need of gas or a spare tire has been waking up with a blur in his left eye.
The condition in Weller's eye has worsened. Weller is now stuck at his ranch in El Cajon when he could be out putting out car fires, changing flat tires, or putting gas in motorists' empty tanks.
This June, Weller went to an ophthalmologist to get his eye checked out, and the doctor diagnosed him with a cataract. Uninsured, the surgery to replace the damaged lens with a synthetic, crystalline lens, says Weller, will cost between $5,000 and $10,000.
Weller has two options: he can save money for the surgery so he can go back out and "play," as he likes to call it, or forego the surgery and use his money to gas up the Ford wagon — which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Ghostbusters' "Ecto-1" rig — and go back out on the road with limited visibility.
"When it was raining the other day, I usually love to go out because that's when people need my help the most. But because of the blurriness and the rain, I don't want to cause a problem...for others or myself. It was very gloomy over here."
There's defeat in Weller's voice. The loud, hearty, country-boy chuckles are rare and don't last long. The 62-year-old retired car mechanic is open about his melancholy.
"You see, I do this routinely, but I also do it to raise my spirits when I'm depressed," says Weller in a deep, southern drawl. "When I help one person, I'm no longer depressed."
Weller likes to share his stories. "I had a car fire on the westbound 8 and 163 north last week. I put the fire out...it was an air-conditioning fire. I saved the folks car for them," says Weller. "Just telling you [that has] raised my spirits."