Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

Monday April 18
I'm on my way to teach riding lessons outside of Halifax. I'm sipping my tea, listening to the radio, and enjoying the sunshine that's filtering in through the windshield.

It's an ordinary day, and an ordinary drive until I pass Withrow's Farm Market, just 12 minutes or so into my hour-long drive. As the car slips into fifth gear, it shudders a bit. It's barely perceptible, but it's definitely an unusual feeling. I slow down, I speed up, and sure enough, it does it again. I keep experimenting to make sure I'm not imagining the sensation. I make a mental note to mention it to Dave when I get home. I hope it's nothing serious.

A couple of kilometres further down the country road, and one of the "check engine" lights starts flashing. The car shudders some more, even when I slow down. Then, the light stops flashing, and stays on. The shuddering disappears. Optimistically, I hope for the best, but within a minute or so, it starts flashing again, and the car starts shuddering again.

When I reach the exit to the highway, I pull into the car-pool parking lot and call Dave to ask whether he thinks I should keep driving. He tells me that if the light's solid, I'm probably ok. If it's flashing, I'm probably not ok. I tell him it keeps switching between the two. He's not sure what that means.

The light's solid now, so I decide to take a chance on the highway. I head down the exit ramp, and the light starts blinking and the shuddering returns. I experiment with various speeds, and occasionally the shuddering goes away, and the light stays solid-- but never for more than 30 to 60 seconds. I know there's a reliable little garage not far from the next exit, so I pull off the highway. The shuddering becomes almost constant as I drive the last kilometre or so to "McNeil's".

It's three pm. They close at five. They're busy and I don't have an appointment, but they agree to take a look at the car anyway. I call to cancel my lessons-- or at least the first couple. I'm hoping I can still make it for the last two.

In the waiting room, a couple of other customers read newspapers and books while the wall-mounted TV in the corner broadcasts an American daytime TV celebrity talk show. A larger bearded man in his fifties flips through a Dick Francis book he's brought to pass the time. I'm a huge Dick Francis fan, so we start a conversation-- which inevitably turns to horses since it turns out his University-aged daughter is a horse-person too. People coming in and out of the garage clearly know the man, and we all talk amongst ourselves during the hour or so it takes before the mechanic gives me the good/ bad news.

My car needs a new ignition coil. This has something to do with spark plugs and is apparently a fairly common problem in Mazda vehicles. It will only take 15 minutes or so to replace the part. "Great," I think, "I'll be able to make it to the city to teach my last two lessons."

Unfortunately, the garage doesn't have the part in stock. The very helpful and very friendly receptionist calls around, but can't find anyone who can get the part to them before the next morning.

"Is it safe to drive it to Halifax?" I ask.

The mechanic scrunches up his face in an apologetic way that lets me know the answer even before he speaks: "it's really not a good idea...not that far. And you risk causing a lot more damage."

I call to cancel the rest of my lessons.

As I give the garage the information they need to do the work tomorrow, the Dick Francis fan (Mr. Young) retrieves the keys to his car and pays his bill.

Young: "Do you need a ride?" he asks.

Me: "Oh no, it's ok. I'll just walk to the grocery store and loiter around there until my husband finishes work."

Young: "How long will that be?"

Me, glancing at my watch..."a couple of hours I guess".

Young: "Look, these people here know me. They'll tell you I'm loud, but I'm harmless. I'll give you a ride."

Me: "It's a pretty long drive from here". I'd already told him I have horses at home, and had given him a rough idea of where we live.

As I return to my conversation with the receptionist, Mr. Young makes a call on his cell phone. I hear him asking his daughter if she wants to come see some horses.

Young: "See," he says. "You'll feel more comfortable if my daughter comes with us, and she will get to see some horses."

So, I got in his car, we picked up his daughter, and we talked mostly horses for the entire 20 minute drive. It was much better than wandering the isles of the not-so-big grocery store for two and a half hours.

No comments:

Post a Comment