Tuesday, June 13, 2006

flat tires are bad when you don't have a jack or a wrench and yer in the middle of nowhere

the kindness of strangers

Friday night I was driving down to LA. Granted, I'd gotten kinda a late start because Chapin was recovering from a cat fight wound and needed antibiotics but was hiding under the bed and wouldn't come out. And I couldn't get on the road until I'd given him his dose.

So, I had a late start.

And so I was driving kinda fast. Not like super fast. But lets say a little faster than normal.

Right when I'm on that stretch of road that nods off between Santa Maria and Buelton I here a funny noise and feel like maybe something kinda sorta hit my car. But my steering feels fine and I think "musta been a rock" and keep driving (eighty).

And about 90 seconds later I realize hmmm, is that my car making a funny noise and oh shit, my steering isn't working very well.

Slow down. Get out of the fast lane. Get into the slow lane. Get onto the shoulder. Stop.

Shit shit shit.

See, the last time I got a flat tire, the tire folk didn't replace my jack (and I didn't realize it was gone until too late) or that lug nut type of wrenchy dealie bob. I do have a spare. But I've got no way to get the spare onto my car, much less remove the flat as a pancake worthless piece of rubber that is currently underneath my car.

Shit shit shit.

So I call Steve, who is on a train and can't really come and help me. And I call Dan who is out at some ball game with his new girl (and who doesn't have a cell so he didn't get my call until way later). And I don't have AAA (note to self: get AAA. And a jack. And a wrench. And maybe a flash light.).

A few cars go by. And keep going, those rat bastards. It's about 8:00. Soon it will be dark. And I am in the middle of nowhere.

I mean not nowhere completely as there is a little blip of a town just up the highway. But when I say little I mean it has no stop light, no police department, no restaurant staying open past nine. No nothing. Maybe it has a pay phone. Maybe it has a public restroom. But that is it.

Shit shit shit.

And then I met my guardian angel.

Beau was probably pushing past his mid-50s. Covered in tats. Covered. Like the spiderweb on the elbow type of tats. He had a big long beard which he had put in a pony tail at the tip. He had a (cherried out) old truck and on the back of his window he had one sticker.

It said "Lick It."

I was a little worried.

But what choices did I have? He was the only person nice enough to stop. He asked if I had a jack.

"No." I said and knitted my brow.

Did I have a wrenchie dealie bob?

"No," I said again and felt shame cuz I really know better than to drive without these two things.

"Welp," said Beau, "I live about five miles away. Just up the road. I'm gonna go get a jack. I'll be right back."

About 10 minutes Beau came back. He brought a hydraulic jack and a really big four-armed wrenchy type dealie bob. He wouldn't let me touch the tire.

"You'll get all dirty," he said.

"What do you do, Beau?" I asked as he removed the bad tire.

"I'm a retired machinist," he told me. Which confused me for a second cuz my mind heard it as mechanic and I thought oh my god I am so lucky. Then I realized what he said and I asked what kind of things he made.

"I worked for Smith and Wesson," he told me. He'd lived in Los Alamos for about four years. Before that he was in Fresno. My mind reeled at the life Beau had probably lived. Nowadays he fixes up his truck and he has a big old Harley. He rides both in the cruising nights that happen yearly or so around our area.

He asked about the sticker on the back of my car.

"Oh, it's silly," I said. "It's a Buddhist dream flag and it has to do with spreading compassion all over the world."

"What's silly about that?" asked Beau. "Isn't that what it's all about."

"I guess so," I said, ashamed again, but this time because I had been embarrassed to tell someone about what meant so much to me.

"Are you a Buddhist?" he asked.

"I am," I said.

"Well, answer me this," he said. "What do you know about reincarnation?"

"Not much," I told him. "I find it confusing too."

"But I do know that it has to do with karma and the karma that you create in this life time. For instance, you and I now have karma together. You are doing this nice thing for me -- you are building good karma. Like a deposit into a bank. And now, I should do something nice for you or for someone else. But either way, what you have done is an act of kindness which is good karma for you."

"That's good," he said, "cuz I'm kinda in the hole."

I tried to give him money, but didn't have any cash and didn't have a pen to write him a check.

"Do you have a pen?" I asked.

"Wouldn you paying me take away from my good karma?" he asked.

"No!" I said.

He kinda searched around in his truck, but now that I think about it, I realize he wasn't really looking that hard.

"Nope. No pen."

"Well what about your address?" I asked. "I will send you a check!"

"Now how are you going to write down my address without a pen?" Beau asked.

"I don't know," I said.

"Do you know why I stopped to help you?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"Cuz when I slowed down you flashed me that big smile. And I just wanted to help you."

"That is so nice, Beau. You are so nice. Thank you. Thank you for helping me," I said, still wishing there was some way I could give him some money for the huge help he had given me.

"Well, I don't have any way to pay you. But I thank you. I really thank you. Can I give you a hug?"

"That'd be fine," Beau said and we hugged on the side of Highway 101 in the middle of absolute nowhere.

He got in his truck and drove off. I got in mine and drove off, too, finally catching up to him right as he was getting onto his exit.

He waved.

I honked. And I thanked my lucky stars.

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