Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Breakdown Opportunity


The sinking feeling comes over you as you drive a deserted desert byway, 100 miles from the nearest town.  The steering gets hard, the air conditioner gets hot and the engine heats up instantly.  Fan belt, you say before you even come to a stop.  'Shit'.  Your dog Cooper licks your face.  No yelling.  This will not define your weekend wilderness getaway.  But it does.
 
You make camp with some supportive friends and try to forget but the next day you are hell bent on solving the problem.  You can’t help it, it’s how you were born.  You hitch 100 miles to get the last fan belt in the county before the noon closing of the Parts store and you hitch 100 miles back, with Cooper.  Good rides, good people.  Everyone is helpful and empathetic.  You start installing the serpentine belt and every passing motorist stops and helps or offers moral support so before long, you are done.  Good as new.  Almost. 

The next day you take off with your new fan belt and it lasts 20 miles and burns up like the last one on the seized up a/c flywheel.  You hitch 30 miles with Cooper to a café and phone and call the tow truck.  You have lunch with the hippie chick waitresses and discuss cars, water, tattoos and the secret canyons.  The huge tow truck comes and you go out and find your car and winch it on to the flatbed, like a dead whale.   Hours of loud bumpy conversation with the driver and you find common ground, a shared sense of humor and mutual respect.  Plus 300 dollars for the towing.

You call the shop the next day and they inevitably try to work you.  They have to.  It’s their job. The 5 day, 2500 dollar original estimate is quickly whittled down to 500 when they discover that even though you are from up north, you are not rich or dumb and don’t need air-conditioning.  It could be done in 2 days.  Maybe.

You settle down at your trailer camp with no car, bike or distractions so you get to know all the neighbors, intimately.  A series of simple questions turns into hours of conversation, dinner, drinks and dates for the future. You stop by the camp host and go inside and watch Ellen reruns and a Mormon cooking show with them in a room hung with elk heads and antelope skulls.  The lady next door grew up in your hometown 2500 miles away.  The guy up the street has the same profession as you do, in another state, in another world, a smaller world.  Time slows to a crawl and becomes insignificant, but you like it.  You hike every road and trail in the neighborhood and discover the micro details of the area.  You talk to your dog.

Days later it is done and your new neighborly friends fight to take you to pick up your car.  You chat them up at the car shop as you pay your bill and they give you a dashboard calendar from last year along with your old a/c and fan belt.  You hit the road like Jack Kerouac’s youngest son and the highway has never felt so smooth, fast and cool.  Even with no a/c.  'That wasn’t so bad', you think as you leave behind the local rural time warp and your new found friends, in your rearview mirror.  It was not an anticipated or sought after experience but it was another opportunity to peek into the good essence of human nature.  You got to see some new country, meet some new folks and know yourself just a little better.

It reminds you of that time you limped into Winnemucca Nevada late on a winter Saturday night with no water pump.  After camping out at the part store on a Sunday morning, chatting up the bouffant babe behind the counter, you met a rancher who helps you install it, in the windy cold.  Actually he told you to go do something else after 10 minutes of chatty assistance and does it himself.  He asked you for 85 bucks so you threw him a hundred and hit the road yelling, 'I love this town', before you realized you had no heat.  Karma paused, but the heat came on after 45 frigid miles and you baked yourself home in a giddy blizzard.  It left you promising to be more proactive and prepared but, more importantly, it left you with renewed faith in the human spirit.

Like most promises and perspectives, it faded fast, so when it happened again you are surprised, almost miffed.  Your faith in yourself was tested, exercised, renewed and strengthened.  Your confidence renewed with respect to what you can endure and solve with a little time, the right tools and a little help from your friends.  The road of self-discovery does not come without some breakdowns and bumps but it is filled with kind and interesting people who are genuinely willing to help.  No matter how deserted this road seems, you are never alone.  Maybe you will drive it again next year.