Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Reminder

Some days just restore my faith in humanity.

Saturday was supposed to be a great day. For six months I had been looking forward to my annual week in the Outer Banks. Anytime work was getting me down, I would picture myself on the beach and remind myself that in June I was getting seven glorious days to relax in the sun. Finally the day had arrived.

To make the week even better, I was supposed to start my trip with a photo shoot in the National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden – a free headshot as part of a Fringe show I’m stage managing. And so, it was on the way to D.C. that it hit – Bad Vacation Luck.

I got a flat tire. My second in a week.

It also led to my meeting a bunch of genuinely nice people in a city not necessarily known for its genteel nature. They were so supremely nice that I felt this story deserved to be shared.

I was traveling down 50W, excited that I was actually going to be on time for my shoot, when a very sweet couple honked their horn and motioned for me to roll down my window.

Them: Did you know that you have a flat tire?

Me: (incredulous) Are you serious?!

Them: Yeah, and it looks really low.

Me: Ok, thanks for letting me know.

They didn’t have to tell me, and I would probably have driven around for another 20 minutes before I realized that something just didn’t feel right. They also let me merge in front of them when I got in the wrong lane on 7th St. in my panic to still get to the Sculpture Garden on time without demolishing my tire rim.

I didn’t make it to the Sculpture Garden. As it turns out, Saturday was Race for the Cure in D.C., and certain streets were closed off for the Race - certain streets on which I had planned to park. So I ended up stopped with my hazard lights on in the middle of the right-hand lane of Pennsylvania Avenue. It was there that two middle-aged couples (who were clearly tired after participating in the Race) stayed with me for 40 minutes while trying to help me change my tire. They pulled their Jeep around and offered their jack when mine was giving us trouble. When it became clear that my tire was rusted to the axle and wasn’t going to come off, they tried filling it with Fix-a-Flat so that I could at least make it to the nearest gas station.

Of course, we were dealing with Bad Vacation Luck, so as it ended up there was a hole in my intake valve, and the Fix-a-Flat just leaked all over the street. After all of that effort, I had to call AAA, who could hopefully sledgehammer my tire off the axle and replace it with my spare. And in the end, they apologized to me for not being able to help more, when I was overwhelmed with gratitude for everything they had done. And then they were worried about someone slamming into my car while it was in the lane, and they asked me to hang out on the sidewalk so I wouldn’t get hurt.

The AAA guy came in record time, and all so he could tell me that there was nothing he could do for me. He had to call a tow truck to take me to the nearest tire center, but he had them put me on the priority list since I was, technically, in the middle of traffic. He kindly explained exactly what was wrong with the tire, where I should go, and what I should ask them to fix, all while letting me pet the dog who rides along with him to calls. He left only when he was sure that I would be all right.

Then a D.C. police officer pulled up behind my car, and I was sure that my good fortune was over. He was going to ream me out for stopping where I had, and give me a ticket. My heart was pounding as I prepared for the forthcoming confrontation. Instead, he looked at my sympathetically as I explained my situation, and told me, “I’m going to set up some flares, and I’ll be back to check on you periodically, OK?” At this point, so many strangers had shown their concern for me that I was nearly in tears. I barely held it together when a young boy passed with his father and brother and turned to shout, “Good luck!” after his father quietly explained what I was doing in the middle of the street.

After about an hour, the tow truck got there, and the driver took me into Arlington, VA. His son had gone to his 8th grade semi-formal the night before, so he was tired, but it didn’t keep him from making sure I was completely squared away before he gave me my keys and left.

And so I went to talk to the man behind the desk of Arlington Auto Inc., a young man named Cesar. I explained my problem, and he said he would have to look at the tire before he knew how much he’d have to work on it. He hoped he would be able to finish it by the next night, but I’d have my car back by Monday at the latest. I had never considered that they might not have time to fix my car before they closed.

And then the dams I’d been holding all day broke. I was stressed, tired, and now potentially stuck in Virginia. And so I cried. I couldn’t help it.

Cesar looked at me in alarm. I apologized and tried to get a hold of myself, but before I could, he told me, “You know what, I’m going to go look at your car right now. I’ll see what I can do for you. I just don’t want to make a girl cry.”

And off he went. An hour later my spare was on and he had given me a discount on a replacement spare so that I could make it to North Carolina without further incident. Before I left, I got directions to the highway from a guy who was dropping his car off, and suggestions of places to eat from a girl who was picking her car up.

I didn’t interact with a single person on Saturday who wasn’t completely willing to go out of their way to help me, a complete stranger. Yes, I got to the beach five hours later than I’d planned, but I might not have made it at all without them. It reminded me that there are still sincerely nice people in the world, and that I want to be one of them.


Matt Lindeboom said...

Wow. Great story.

You hear such howls of negativity from the everyday voices that surround you, it's very easy to hone in only on the bad. Day after day that becomes like a disease that just saps your strength. It feels fantastic to be proven utterly wrong every once in a while.

Stephen said...

Yea people are awesome like that. That was some nice reading.

nevie said...

my first day on maryland's campus i was desperately trying to find a place to park in order to actually GET my parking permit from the DOTS office. everywhere i could find was permit-required. overwhelmed at my transfer and of this utter frustration (at this time, they were constructing over old parking lots and changing things around so promising signs of public parking pointed to... nothing), i pulled up to the regents drive parking garage in tears, to ask the man at the entrance where in the world i could park my car without getting ticketed, and he replied:

"come right in ma'am, just don't cry, i hate to see a lady cry. park in here and i won't let nobody ticket your car. i'll make sure."

i've heard guys complain about how much "women can get just by crying," but i like to believe it's not because of why they think. i think it's the same reason the little boy called out good luck to you. somewhere deep down in our jaded, cynical society, we can all still be touched by a fellow human being in pain.

ali d said...

When I told Jason about this story, his immediate response was, "Guys could never get away with that" and I had to admit that I never wanted to be one of those girls who cries to get her way. I felt like it was taking advantage of a double standard that I don't support, and I tried so hard to not cry for that very reason, but there was just no stopping it.

Part of me loathed a tiny bit, but I really couldn't help it, and he really did just want to help me not be stuck in VA. I think you're right, Nevie, people just don't like to see others in pain, so I don't know anymore if it is a 'girl thing.'

Alex said...

I love this post. It's basically how I feel every time some thuggish, ipod-attached teenage boy on the subway gets up to offer his seat to an old woman.

And I also have issues with crying being a girl thing. Or at least being a way for us to manipulate guys. I think it's just an effect of generally being more openly emotional. Not suggesting that certain guys aren't, but just in our society it is generally more acceptable for women to cry. So we do. And because someone sees that we are honestly upset, they go further out of their way to help. My personal example- breaking down in tears of frustration in my Italian professor's office. I think she felt too much pity to fail me after that.

ali d said...

I'm glad everyone liked this post - thanks all.

I guess my issue with crying is that I know that it's recognized that girls are more openly emotional, and because I know what the usual reaction to that is, I don't want to feel like I'm taking advantage of that knowledge. You can't help what you can't help, though.

B.Graham said...

Ali, this post was wonderful, and I'm glad you could see all the beauty around you instead of just the broken down car. That in itself is a won battle, I'd say.

Also, about women crying... I hate that it's seen as a bad thing, being more openly emotional, like it's something to be embarrassed of. Like the fact that men are not allowed to be more emotional is a tribute to a stronger society. It just makes me sad.

Max Nova said...

As a man, I'd like to say I get plenty emotional at soccer games, but it does not involve crying. Generally it involves things shouted at the ref. But society doesn't exactly welcome men getting all emotional and shouting at people in the workplace, for example.

I think the problem is we have reduced getting "emotional" to crying. There are a range of human emotions, we need to mix things up a bit more.

Dennis said...

My first reaction was the same as Jason's, and my first impulse was to post a similar story of my own, that turned out very much the opposite of yours. But I'd rather just leave it alone, as the story made me happy.

I do have some comments for the crying conversation that has developed. Why is controlling your emotions a bad thing? I personally view the human ability to suppress emotion as a boon, something that separates us from more primitive creatures. Maybe I took my ninth grade English class section on the philosophy of stoicism in the play Julius Caesar a little too seriously, but I don't see anything wrong with limiting emotional displays in public.

I get angry at people in public sometimes. Is it acceptable for me to insult/yell at/fight people who upset me as an expression of my anger? No, I control it. How is crying any different? I'm not saying that people should never cry, it is a healthy function and I feel that the vast majority of people do it, whether publicly or privately.

I don't want this comment to come off as arrogant. I'm not saying that I am perfectly in control my emotions all of the time, some of you can attest to that. I am saying that I don't see anything wrong with aspiring to control your emotions.

Jason Heat said...

I feel, like with most things, balance is important. I think being emotionally accessable is essential - as is knowing how to best and appropriately channel those emotions. Crying in public is neither 'good' nor 'bad' and neither is getting angry - but throwing a shit fit is different than a restrained word of warning, and crying over a break-up or friend's illness or stressful day is different than someone who forcefully bursts into tears over perceived non-existant slights.

I'm not sure there is a greater or lesser value in choosing to expres emotion privately or openly so long as some point you DO express it in a responsible way rather than supressing or not even acknowledging your feelings in a misplaced desire to be 'above' them or whatnot.

I mean, even Spock smiles now and again.