In the middle of nowhere.
Turning the key to my car.
And there is only silence.
I say a prayer.
That's when Linc decides it's time to start crying.
And I want to cry too.
But I don't. I buck up & walk into the tiny Idaho gas station I had stopped at because everyone in the car had to pee & could not wait for a larger more legitimate brand of gas station. The woman behind the counter has no sympathy for my 3-small-children-and-me-stuck-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-Idaho-in-a-broken-car predicament. Because, really, to her it's not the middle of nowhere. It's the center of somewhere. She offers the number of "Mad Mike" (his full Christian name I'm guessing) the ONE mechanic with in a 20 miles.
I pull out my cell phone just as perky 16 year-old girl working the grill inside the gas station pops up beside me, golden ponytail swinging behind her.
"Maybe let's try to jump it with my car first?" she suggests. As we walk outside she whispers, "Don't call Mad Mike. He's a tweaker." Which I have a vague recollection has something to do with drugs, but I suddenly feel old because I used to understand teenage lingo. In fact, I was once fluent in it.
We connect our cars with metal claws, which I know how to do. I've had lessons on how to do this many times, but the only thing I took away from these lessons was the fact that it was incredibly dangerous & there was a distinct possibility that it would end with battery acid shooting into my face.
But we figure it out and with cars connected I turn the key, praying for electricity to arch like a Frankenstein movie and my car to magically resurrect. But nothing happens. We step out of our cars staring into the belly of the non-responsive beast and it might as well be a space shuttle for all I know about cars.
But we keep staring, hands on our hips, into the maze of tubes and wires and strange boxes as if we can glean something from simply looking. I stick my hand in and wiggle a nozzle hoping car will tell me what's wrong with it through osmosis or psychic connection. It doesn't.
"Welp." she says. And while my teen language skills are rusty, I know what this means. It means I'm screwed.
In the distance a cloud of smoke rises from the road moving inexorably toward the gas station. "Hey," the girl chirps, "I know those guys!" She waves her arms toward the dust cloud, her ketchup spattered apron waving in the wind.
As the car and dust pull in next to me, I see the smashed front end of a massive truck, with what may or may not have been blood smeared across the crinkled metal bumper. (NOTE to my dear readers: I'm pretty sure there was no actual blood on the bumper. However, in the course of me mentally reliving this moment I keep remembering blood spatter. It was more than likely not there. But it does make for a more dramatic story, doesn't it?)
The truck door screeches painfully as it's pushed open and the dust settles. I can now see into the cab of the truck and it's stuffed full with some of the dirtiest, dark eyed-iest, missing tooth-iest dudes I have ever seen. The one who is shuffling out of the car limping towards us is in para-military garb, dirt swirling around him like Pig-Pen from Charlie Brown.
I'm going to be honest with you guys, he looked like a Hillbilly Cannibal (a proper noun that, therefore, must be capitalized). And those of you who know me, know that Hillbilly Cannibals happen to be what I'm most afraid of in the world. No really. My fear of them keeps me up at night. And here I was, face-to-face with my my living nightmare.
"Hey, Swartz" he drawls to the blond girl, smiling around his cigarette which has ash hanging dangerously off the end. She points to my car. At this point the Carter Children are much too interested to stay buckled in their seats and trickle out of the car while "Swartz" (I'm guessing that's her last name because what parents would name this golden girl Swartz?) explains the problem.
Sydney slides in next to me pointing to the guy and then to the truck loudly declaring "Mama, those boys are smoking!" I push her finger down as the camo-clad guy turns slowly towards us, one eye closed against the smoke wafting into it. I subtly push Sydney and Robert behind me, smiling as beatifically as I can manage given that I am sure a hunting knife is coming out of this guys combat boot at any moment.
But he just grins at her and Sydney smiles back oblivious to the potential danger.
"You're right," he says. "Smokin's bad." Air whistles through his missing front tooth as he says this and he tosses his cigarette on the ground turning back to my open hood.
The other guys pile out of the car with the biggest dog I have ever seen, which upon further recollection might have been a pony, just as Lincoln begins to wail in despair from having been abandoned in his car seat by his siblings. I pull him out and the smallest guy in the creepy-dude truck sidles up to me sticking his finger out for Linc to grab.
"How old's your baby?" he asks. I answer 8 months to which he smiles with the most radiant, sweet smile I have ever seen, while someone is still holding chew in their cheek. "My little guy is 10 months old" he brags.
And I see it. Right there in that frozen moment with Linc holding onto this guys dirt stained finger, the para-military-esque guy still working on my car, and the last guy in a ripped Black Sabbath t-shirt kneeling on the ground eye-to-eye with Syd and Rob introducing them to the dog/pony.
These guys... these dirty, dentally challenged gentlemen were kind.
They were humble.
They weren't offended.
They weren't puffed up.
And while I recognize that this is cliqué and anti-climatic for you, my readers, I remember thinking, "These guys are angels".
But they weren't angels.
That's the point.
They were just guys.
On their way past the gas station going to work. And they stopped. And they fixed my car well enough that I didn't have to call "Mad Mike" and face whatever "tweaking" was. Enough for me to get to civilization and a Wal-Mart to buy a new battery. They entertained babies, looked children in the eye listening to them babble ever onward, and when, by the magic of their heavenly touch, they got the car started they wouldn't take any money from me. They wouldn't even let me buy them sodas from the gas station.
"Just helpin' out," the last guy to pile into the car declares, waving as they left in much the same way they came. A cloud of dirt and dust.
And I sat in the now-running car, my forehead pressed against the wheel, thinking of my judgement. My fear. And I thought about my new friends whose names I never caught, in a town that I never bothered to learn the name of, and their perfect example of brotherly kindness.
If there is anyone who I want to strive to be like, it's them.
Salt of the earth.
Ready to help.
Expecting nothing in return.
The only thing I ask is to keep all my teeth.