Monday, December 31, 2007

Route 28 is a hungry beast

A couple of weeks ago the Things and I were making a trip up to my Mom’s house for a family Christmas. It’s not a bad drive, clocking in at just under 4.5 hours. For most of the way I can take major highways, and indeed I could take major highways ALL the way if I really wanted to get involved in the hell that is the 495/66 corridor through Northern Virginia.

Not surprisingly, I do not want to get involved in that breed of idiocy and mind-bendingly crappy traffic, and so routinely veer OFF 95 in Fredericksburg and make my way northwesterlyy via 2-lane highways and such.

This last trip, I decided to utilize Route 28, which is a lovely scenic road that winds its way through the farmlands of Fauquier County. I like me some country roads and farmland, y’all, and will take a few extra minutes of travel time to see what’s off the beaten path.

At about the time I was only 30 minutes away from our destination, I became distracted while driving and went off the “shoulder” of the road. “Shoulder” is in quotes here, because this particular portion of Route 28 has not the broad shoulders of a mighty lumberjack, but rather possesses the narrow shoulders of a pygmy herdsman or maybe even a gnat.

Gnat shoulders, you may have gathered, and almost non-existent. So too with the shoulders of this part of Route 28.

Much to my consternation, this vanishingly small nubbin of shoulder more than made up for its lack of breadth by an astonishing depth. The whump of tires OFF the road were deafened by the BLAM of tires coming back ON the road as I slightly overcorrected the drive path. The car skittered halfway into the other lane of traffic (no one was approaching, thank goodness), a few bad words escaped my lips, the Things were rudely shaken from their DVD-watching reverie, and I had the nauseating feeling that “something” had gone more wrong than right in the return to pavement.

Fairly soon, the oh-so-subtle drifty response of Tinkerbell became more pronounced. Handling started to get spongy. A certain rhythmic beat started, then intensified, and by the time we were getting into Nokesville the slapping from the right rear was a clear indication that Route 28 had taken a tire for its own.

Burning rubber…mmmmm.

I eased Tinkerbell into the parking lot of a 7-11 (sanctuary!), and began to ponder on my options. First things first though, I called Mom to let her know I’d be late to the party. HOW late was going to be anyone’s guess. I know how to change a tire, but hesitated a moment while thinking about if I should call my insurance company (because I pay them a fee every month for roadside assistance) and quite possibly wait two hours for them to show up to help me, or if I should just unpack the trunk and start a-changing on my own. It’s not HARD to do, after all. I just didn’t really want to do it.

And then a beat-up white pickup truck pulled in right next to me as I was hauling boxes and gifts and such out of Tinkerbell’s trunk. The driver stepped out, asked me if I had a flat, and on the affirmative response he said “I’ll change it for you. I’m going to go get a cup of coffee and I’ll be right back.”

On his return he told me that he’s a mechanic, that he does this stuff for a living, that he figgered I’d got this down on south Route 28 where the shoulders are in really bad shape, that this happens a lot, and then he just set to work. In 5 minutes the tire was changed, he’d put the busted one in the trunk, told me not to drive over 50 MPH or more than 50 miles on the toy-sized spare, and he bid me a Merry Christmas before driving off. I barely had time to say “thank you.”

People? I tell you right now that that ball-capped grimy-fingered blue-eyed fellow was my angel that day. Really now – what are the chances he’d be by that particular spot on that particular day with that particular skill set and the time to help me out?

Whether he was angel in fact or just in my imagination, I’m grateful that there are still people like that in this world. You never know where you’re going to find them. You never EVER know what they’re going to look like, or who they might be to the rest of the world, or what’s going on in their lives, except for that at some point in time they’re going to be there for you, paying it forward.

My goal for the next year is to be more like the angel in the beat up truck.

What’s yours?

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