Well, I got out of my statewide meeting almost an hour early, so I was psyched. Rather than change out of my suit and three-inch high pointy-toed pumps, I decided to head straight for the retreat, to get even more sewing done. I was zipping down the road on my two plus hour drive from the capitol to my retreat city along an Interstate that runs through a very rural part of the state. I was listening to Bill Buford's Heat on tape--which should have been more interesting than it was. I was about half way through a state forest when I heard a sound from the dash of my car. When I looked down, I saw a flashing red "STOP!!" with a little oil can symbol and a note about oil pressure.
Here's where I will interject something about the forests in my half of our state. Think back to grade school, when you did Venn diagrams. Now, take a piece of paper and draw four circles. Label these four circles "recently released felons," "folks cooking meth," "white supremacists," and "survivalists," and have them intersect in various ways. Then, overlay this with a clear sheet labeled, "folks possessing automatic weapons." You would have a fairly accurate population map of our Northern forests. I'm sure there are regular ol' campers in there, too, but they seem to get shot and/or disappeared with surprising regularity by one of the folks in the other four circles. So, when the light went on, I thought, "Um, yeah, I'll keep driving till I hit an exit."
When I got to the exit, which was entirely populated by one run-down gas-n-sip, I first called my husband to scream about how much I hated my car (a VW 1.8T Passat, a model with remarkably common and documented oil sludge problems), then called AAA. AAA said they'd be out in about an hour. So, I sat in my car; charged my phone; watched birds (very helpful for my BOAF project); became fairly certain a guy in a flannel shirt lived in the brush behind the gas-n-sip; refused to get out of my car to talk to an odd guy drinking Red Bull (who seemed to be trying out very lame, proto-serial killer excuses to get me to engage with him--example, could I walk to the end of the gas-n-sip to show him which way was West on the Interstate--yeah, nice try); listened to a young guy lie to his boss on his cell phone about where he was; and, in general, felt more and more depressed about the likelihood I would not be going to my retreat.
A little over an hour later, the tow guy came. I've taken to calling him Detroit Rock City (DRC), which was blaring at full steam out of his truck when he pulled up. We both first had a conversation with an older man whose car had also broken down and who seemed to be attempting to jack my tow truck. Not happening. Then, while working his chaw, DRC hoisted my car on the flat bed and gallantly opened the door for me to climb the four feet up into his truck, which I gamely did--even in three inch heels.
He then turned to me and, still working his dip and his cup, said, "So, you want to go to Bob Smith's?" "Is that a service station?" I asked. He half nodded. I then just threw it all out there for him: I'm from a city in a different part of the state, I'm going from meeting to meeting, I have no idea where I am, I just need the red oil light to go away, and I have no idea who can do that for me. "Well, I don't know if that's Bob Smith's place," he said. "Is is kinda close?" I asked. When the answer was yes, I said, "Well, let's give it a go." So, he then hauls off down the county road going fast enough that--in a flat bed tow truck with a Passat wagon in the back--we are passing people . . . frequently. We chat about the ashes flying around us--somebody's burning something somewhere, we observe. And, I wonder how quickly one dies when in a tow truck crash. Then, boom, he pulls off to the opposite side of the road at Bob Smith's . . . which doesn't look promising.
We both get out of the truck--me a bit more slowly, since I am wearing heels and getting out on the side of oncoming traffic. By the time I get in to talk to Bob Smith, it's clear this is a non-starter. Bob says to DRC, "I haven't worked on a car in over 5 years. Why do they send people here?" Bob is watching Fox News with three other guys, all leaning back in a way that is so typical of small town life in my state. Except the story is about Anna Nicole Smith's death, which makes it all even odder than it already is. "I got another idea," says DRC. So, I follow him back to the tow truck.
"I'll take you to Another Auto Shop (AAS). It's just up in town. I take my cars there. Only place I'll go," says DRC. "Sounds great to me!" I say with enthusiasm. "Where is 'town'?" "Just a few miles up the road. They don't rip you off. Plus AAS has its own part shop." "Fantastic!" I say with overdetermined glee. I buckle up, and we're off. DRC and I share laughs about others' driving abilities. Apparently, "half the people get their driver's licenses from Sears Roebuck and the other half from a box of Cracker Jacks," an observation with which I agree--while secretly deciding that if this whole thing suddenly goes bad, I will be forced to seek common ground with DRC by admitting I was once a member of the KISS Army. But, it doesn't go bad at all. We pull into town, head to AAS, and DRC introduces me to his friend and mechanic: Tommy.
At that point, Tommy is standing around with a couple friends--or fellow workers, it's hard to tell--poking at a car engine with, I kid you not, a knife. So, standing in a dirt-sandy lot filled with a surprising number of trucks and cars that will likely never see the open road again, and being snowed on by ashes from some fire somewhere, I tell Tommy my story. He pops the hood and makes a snide remark about my car's plastic dipstick. He's a bit shorter than I am, but I manage to look him in the eye and say, basically, "Look, I know this car is a trendy piece of junk. I completely share your disdain for my vehicle and the hipper-than-thou parent lifestyle that it represents. But, I bought it, and I'm driving it, and I just want to get home. Can you help me do this? Please." All is now right with the world. Tommy and I bond over our mutual distaste for VW products; he shares that he had to replace the motor in a Beetle last week and it was the worst day of his life. So, he adds a little oil to my sludge-mobile, describes how the oil filter works, tells me what to do if the light goes on again, gives me directions for the quickest way to get to my home city, invites me into his inner circle to laugh at some guy whose PT Cruiser needs a fuel pump (apparently there are cars held in even lower esteem), and charges me . . . $2! I give him $3, which makes him happy, and head off to find something to eat, as it's now about 4:00 pm, and I haven't eaten since the meeting's continental breakfast.
I pull into a Wendy's, call to vent at my husband, head in, sit in the bathroom stall, look at my filthy pumps and my dirty, grease-stained legs, and just start bawling. Two minutes later, I feel much better, wash my face, and commiserate with the counter girl whose co-workers are having a screaming drag out in back. I take my disgusting cheesy-bacon-mushroom burger and caffeine-rich diet coke to my car. Promptly drop a plop of cheese goo on my dress, sigh, and head off for home. Tommy's way out is perfect, and even driving slightly slower per his instructions, I'm back in my town within 75 minutes.
I then chat with my mechanic who notes that my husband informed him that I don't like my car. "No," I say, "I hate it, actually. But, whatever." I then pop the hatch and sit in the back of the wagon--next to my sewing machine--in the quiet close of the day waiting for my husband and kids to arrive. I call my sister, who's at the retreat, and we swap stories of hated automobiles. She notes that it was probably lucky that I was wearing a suit and heels since it likely made them all feel sorry for me. Looking at my completely dusty and scuffed pumps and my cheese-stained suit, I agree. Then my family pulls up, and I head home.
That's how I never got to the quilt retreat. But, I still got to sew, and watch Star Wars movies with my kids, and snuggle with my husband while watching some TIVO, and sleep in my own bed. And, I got to learn that some people are still nice and helpful. So, it wasn't terrible after all.
And, the Grammys are on tonight. I'll bet DRC is watching!