Roadside Assistance

Long ago, my wife and I lived in Florida. We had a lunch gathering a couple of towns over one Sunday, so we piled into the car with a friend and her +1 (hereafter, Mr. +1) and off we went. We ate the typically incongruous lunch of church potlucks: fried chicken, lasagna, taco salad. Thus it has always been, and always will be.

On our way back I was driving about 90mph because I was hot on the trail of an afternoon nap. My wife noticed and insisted I slow down. So I eased it back to between 80 and 85, where the car began to vibrate.

Mr. +1 perked up and said, “Feels like you got a shimmy!”

“Yeah it shimmies between 80 and 85,” I said, “Anything above or below that is pretty smooth.”

Then the back left tire exploded.

Suddenly, roughly a decade later, I had command of everything I learned in Driver’s Ed about regaining control of a vehicle.

  • Turn into the skid
  • Downshift
  • Stay calm
  • Move to the shoulder as soon as possible

It was a success. I was proud, and my passengers were relieved.

After taking a moment to collect myself, I remembered we had a spare tire, but didn’t have a jack. Mr. +1 and I got out to take inventory of our supplies and make a plan.

About the time we ran out of ideas, the first Nissan Sentra ever made rattled up behind us. I went to the passenger door and opened it. An older man greeted me. His car was gutted, and his stubble looked like a field of Czech hedgehogs on which the armies of lunch had broken in great numbers. “Are you kids OK?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “We have a spare tire but no jack. Do you happen to have one?”

Now his face changed, “Yeah, I got a jack but I’m not gonna let you borrow it because I don’t like your face!”

“Uh…”

“I’m joking! I’m always joking,” he said, “Don’t punch me in the face or anything.”

While he pulled his car farther off the road, I went back to the trunk where Mr. +1 had not heard any of this and said, “Hey man, this guy’s a little off so be ready for anything.” I grabbed the short, rusty tire iron next to the spare and went out to meet the stranger.

He walked over to the car with his jack and his own tire iron. I offered to take them and do it myself but, his voice sharpening again, he said, “No, I’m going to do it!”

“OK,” I said, and backed off.

He had some difficulty getting the jack under the car, so again, though with more care this time, I offered to do it. “Yeah, you do it. I don’t feel like it!” he said.

While my friend and I busied ourselves jacking up the car with the ladies still inside, he was sitting on the side of the road breathing hard.

A few moments later, he noticed the ladies. He struggled up to his feet, tapped on the window, and waved. “Which one is your wife?” he asked.

My skin crawled. I guess it was harmless, but it seemed way out of line. “The one in the front” I said. Mr. +1 and I were both fumbling with the iron. This could have gone faster if only one of us were turning it, but it gave us something to do besides addressing him directly.

The stranger turned to Mr. +1 and said, “The other one your wife, or just a friend?”

“Yeah, something like that,” he said

We redoubled our speed.

An age of men passed, and finally the doughnut was on, and the car was down. I grabbed the jack and the stranger grabbed the iron and we walked back to his open trunk. I half expected to find the body of the last person he helped, but I only saw a gas can and another iron. Being sure not to let him out flank me, I placed the jack in the trunk.

I reached to shake his hand and he said, “Hey, do you have any money?”

Midwesterners, like anyone else, have a Lizard Brain, and mine might have wanted to tell him no to protect my money, or strike him and run away, but thanks to careful breeding and rigorous training, my people have grown a Labrador Retriever Brain that completely encases our Lizard Brain, and as we all know, if you ask a Labrador Retriever if he has any cash, and he is in fact, as though he were a night club promoter, carrying $110 in cash, he can neither send nor receive signals to the Lizard Brain because he can only hear the sermons against lying.

I gave the stranger a surprised and put out look. The 10 was my lowest bill. I knew my wife had some smaller bills but I wanted this to be over, so I grudgingly handed it to him.

“Oh, thanks! Gee, I hate to take your money, but I’m not working right now, and it’s hard,” he said.

“No problem,” I said, and we walked back to our cars.

Though it seemed longer, we were back on the road within 15 minutes of the initial blowout. I suppose that’s worth $10. As we watched him merge back onto the interstate, we noticed his bumper sticker. It covered the full length of the bumper and the letters went right up to the edges. It said this:

“You can’t argue with a sick mind.”