I hit a bump driving through New Jersey last week, just as the sun was going down. Boom! It felt as if the insides of the car (known colloquially as the kishkes) fell out, and I was dragging a dead body.
The car was lurching to the right, and a repetitive thump-thump-thump told me something was really wrong. You see, on the macro level, I’m clever about cars. Big thumps and steering issues, I know I have a problem. On the micro level? PDH (pretty damn helpless).
I saw a bridge ahead, and realized that once I committed to driving over it I wouldn’t be able to stop, so I made a right onto a small, deserted road. I got out and looked under the car. No intestines were hanging out. I walked around the other side and looked underneath. All fine.
A man’s voice made me jump. “Miss, you have a flat tire.” I was so distracted that I hadn’t seen him sitting in a parked car nearby. His was the only other car on the block. I saw where he was pointing. Front right tire, dead and flat.
He seemed to be just hanging out. First impression: middle-aged, bald, unreadable expression on his face. “I guess I’ll call Triple A,” I thought out loud, wondering how to do that and if I had a membership and if we had paid the dues. My day was unraveling in a bad way. I had to get home. I had no idea what to do.
Maybe this guy’s a serial killer, I thought. What’s he doing hiding on this deserted street, anyway? I saw that “60 Minutes” show on which fake good Samaritans show up to assist women in distress, just to give them a free ride to oblivion. Maybe he was just waiting for a vulnerable woman to come by.
He asked me, “Do you have a spare?”
“I don’t know,” I confessed, instantly realizing the abysmal depths of my ignorance when it comes to cars.
“Can I look?” he asked, getting out of his car. I wondered where one looks for a spare.
“Sure,” I said. Not every serial killer is a bad person, I thought.
He lifted the back area of my Honda CR-V trunk, which I’ve always thought of as the Land of Mystery, and found not only a spare, but a jack and a wrench in pristine condition, tucked inside little plastic cases I’ve never seen in the eight years I’ve owned the vehicle.
“Do you know you have a picnic table back here?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
He started to sweat as he jacked up the car. I mean, big-man sweat, rolling off his head. He had a huge belly and he was breathing hard, and I told him I was worried that he was straining too hard. I could still call AAA. He said he was OK and he could do this.
He jacked up the car, removed the tire, put on the spare and then tightened what he explained to me were the lug nuts. Now, I don’t know my lug nuts from my torque wrenches, but he clearly had done this before, and within a half-hour the tire was changed.
He still hadn’t said much, so I asked him his name. “Dave,” he said. “I’m retired. Used to be a New York City police officer.”
I rethought the serial killer scenario. Still possible, but less likely.
I shook his hand and introduced myself, and just then a pickup truck came down the block and the male driver leaned out, leered and shouted, “Lucky you had a man with you.”
My middle finger was twitching, but then I realized he was absolutely right. Automotively, I am so retro. Not that all the men I know could fix a flat, but I can’t think of many women who can. Among the women in my generation, the level of car incompetence is way high. We went to home ec class to learn the backstitch while the boys went to shop, and the rest is history. Fortunately, this has changed; more women know the intimate workings of the cars they drive, and more men know how to take in a seam.
I plan to take an automotive course so I won’t feel as stupid as I did that day. Even with an AAA membership, the responsible thing is to know what you drive and know what to do if the kishkes fall out.
Meanwhile, how lucky was I? In a moment of vehicular distress, compounded by my lack of experience, there was a guy parked nearby, ready and willing to help. I hate to say this in the age of women’s empowerment, but in that moment I felt like the Woman in Distress, and Dave the Cop was my hero.
Perhaps a more evolved way to put it is, he was a really nice guy willing to help out a stranger in need.
Copyright © 2017 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.