My Smoking Car

People are just the worst, am I right?

We live in a world with no middle ground. Republicans and Democrats SURELY agreed on stuff at some point in time. They had to, otherwise this country would never have been founded. These days, you can’t say anything political without thirty people disagreeing with you or unfollowing you. Sometimes in real life. They just stop hanging out with you.

Or in Canada. You guys aren’t exempt. I mean, at some point in time, everyone must have loved teachers. Otherwise, you guys wouldn’t have gotten it right and actually paid teachers well. Now, people are upset that teachers get paid well? It’s like ordering a ham sandwich and then getting upset it isn’t turkey. Sorry, bad analogy. It’s like ordering poutine and getting upset it’s not peameal bacon.

That was the best I could do, and I’m very sorry.

The point is, it seems we’ve reached a day and age when people stopped caring about ever agreeing and consider it a terrible thing if we don’t win. Now, I’m not stupid. I realize this has been a problem since the beginning of time, but it’s really hard to look at the world around us and not think it’s worse than normal.

But maybe I’m just focusing on the negatives. Maybe I need more reminders that sometimes, people are just the best. There is an old gas station on MS Highway 18 that serves as that reminder.

A few years back, when I was just out of college and wasn’t a Jeep owner, I worked at a community college in the area. Every morning, I would hop in my little white Mitsubishi Galant and drive for twenty-five minutes down Highway 18 to barely make any money as a tutor. It was surprisingly fun, trust me. I actually looked forward to those mornings, driving the car known as Four Cylinders Of Fury and soaking in the music.

Four Cylinders Of Fury was starting to get a little old, though, as cars are prone to do. We had been on plenty of adventures together, after all. We had traveled all over the Southeast, and even out to San Antonio and back. You know how the relationship with your first car is, and after years of total driving abuse, FCOF was starting to get a little shaky. Literally.

So on this particular day, Four Cylinders Of Fury decided to start overheating whenever I idled. At first, it wasn’t that big a deal. I would just never TRULY idle. Keep rolling forward a little bit to see if it would calm down. Seemed logical, right? But it was merely postponing the inevitable.

This day, Four Cylinders Of Fury started smoking. It wasn’t a big scary black smoke plume, but best I can tell, you don’t want any kind of smoking coming out from under your hood. I was going to see if I could make it without calling a tow truck, but as I made my return trip down Highway 18, things got worse than ever and I had to stop at a tiny gas station and admit defeat.

Defeat is really what I felt at that moment. I was a poor broke kid and had no idea how I would survive this. I knew my parents would be more than generous with helping me survive, but I hated taking advantage of that kindness. So with reluctance, I called for help and felt like crying.

I just felt lost and didn’t want to seem so defeated around people, but I couldn’t stand there outside in the heat in my work clothes. Putting on the most confident face I could muster, I wandered into the station and started looking for a drink or snack. I settled on an Arizona Sweet Tea, because, like I mentioned, I was pretty much broke and it was only a dollar.

Some other guy was looking at drinks. He was a slightly older black gentleman who was waiting on some deli meat to be cut at the front of the station, because naturally a tiny gas station on Highway 18 would have a deli. He looked at me and said, “Hey, those drinks good?” I was kind of caught off guard, and being in such a defeated mood, I was barely able to eek out that yes, they were good, and also super cheap. Then I sort of put my head down and walked towards the front.

Then, everything went downhill. After waiting in line for a bit, I realized I didn’t have any cash on me. This wouldn’t be a problem normally, but since this was just a tiny gas station on Highway 18, they wouldn’t accept a debit card for any purchase under 5 dollars. The woman at the counter was very nice about it, but it didn’t change the fact that this was the closest I’ve ever come to crying over a canned tea.

Just then, as I was beginning my sulking journey to place the drink back, I heard somebody say, “Hey, how much did you say that was?” I looked up, and it was that same older guy who was waiting on deli meat. I answered, and said, “Oh, well don’t worry about it, then. I got you covered.” I just stared at him, and apparently I stared at him for much longer than I thought, because he then said, “Well….you can actually leave, if you’d like.” So I did.

That guy didn’t know I was having an awful day. He didn’t know that my car was sitting outside, ready to start smoking as soon as it was cranked. He didn’t know if I voted for Obama or McCain. He didn’t know anything about me. He just saw that I wanted that drink, but couldn’t get it, and he probably picked up on my brokenness at that moment.

We’re all broken. It’s just incredible to me that we can’t seem to see that we’re all in the same boat. What if that man, in his grungy work clothes, had looked at me and only seen some hairy white kid in khakis and a button up shirt? He probably wouldn’t have been sympathetic to me at all. He wouldn’t have bothered. But he saw more. He saw that, ultimately, I was just another dude trying to make it down Highway 18.

I don’t drive down Highway 18 as much anymore, but still, when I do, I’m reminded of that guy being unnecessarily nice and buying me a tea when I needed some kindness. I’ll always associate that tiny gas station with the fact that sometimes, there just is plain ol’ goodness in people.

I never explained to him why it meant so much to me, but I feel like that wouldn’t matter to him. He’ll never know the impact he had on me that day. Thing is, I don’t think he cared about anything like that. He just wanted to make sure I wasn’t thirsty.

Cause sometimes, when you realize you’re just as broken and lost as every other person around you….well, this is what happens.


4 thoughts on “My Smoking Car

  1. Just now read this in catching up with all the posts in my reader. First thought: MY CAR. It’s all I visualized throughout this post. Assuming we do, in fact, meet in a few days, I can’t wait to introduce you to my dear Mitsy.

    Second thought: I love moments like this. Moments that show both God’s provision and the goodness of others. We’re all somehow connected on this crazy planet, and it never gets old when I see strangers helping one another out. Awesome stuff indeed.

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