Soundings: Thanks for the lift | Notre-Dame Magazine | University of Notre Dame – University of Notre Dame | CarTailz


“We all remember bad times and bad deals. . . . Sometimes, though, life — and the people we meet — do good things for no reason at all.” Shutterstock

I was probably in Tennessee. Maybe it was Kentucky. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Arkansas.

I was driving back north to Indiana from visiting my elderly parents in northwest Louisiana. I was kind of absent as I tend to be driving the freeways thinking about my parents health, life, the miles ahead, the fleeting duration of time, childhood memories, the aging of my mom and dad. . . When it came to me I was pretty close to the semi in front of me.

And then, too fast! . . .

I was so close to the truck that I had no choice but to cross it as well when the semi-trailer straddled a large truck tire.

Whoompf!

My Subaru’s belly felt like it had been smashed and gutted and scraped clean. And like I got a punch in the stomach too.

The car kept rolling, but I knew there had to be some sort of mechanical destruction. I was lucky that an exit appeared right in front of me.

A small town. Not even a city really. Woody hill country. A few run down buildings. Where can I find a workshop, a mechanic, right on the motorway? Gas stations no longer have mechanics. And it was 5:35 p.m. on a Friday night. My stomach dropped as I slowed to a halt at the end of the ramp and looked left, then right.

There was a garage there. No way. At least it looked like a garage – a corrugated iron building with a cratered, weedy gravel lot and a motley heap of old cars in various states of rust and disorder, windows whose broken glass looked like so many missing teeth on a grinning fool’s face – and CAR REPAIR in weathered red letters. A lettering old enough to commemorate a long-forsaken place, a long-forgotten past life.

I attracted to have a look.

I got out and stretched out on the ground – stuck my head under the front bumper – to survey the damage, expecting to see cables, wires and hoses hanging from the engine, oil leaking, fluids drooling from under the car. There was no such thing. Loose bits of something maybe, stuff hanging down somehow. But no bleeding, no open wound or obvious tear. But I don’t know any cars.

When I got out, a mechanic was standing there. Coveralls covered in grease and dirt. young guy He wrings his blackish hands on one of those soft, red cloths you see at gas stations and garages (and nowhere else). Stringy, matted hair and a face that looked as if it had been wedged into the dark recesses of engines, brake pads and struts, fuel pumps and head gaskets on all kinds of cars and trucks at home and abroad since birth.

“What’s happening?” he said. I told him my story.

He landed straight on the ground and crawled under the engine. “Yes,” he said. “Yes I see.” Probably the oil pan, I figured, or a severed brake line, or something I’d never heard of. I knew I was in a bind, at his mercy. I told him I was just passing through.

He slipped out from under the car and jumped up. I braced myself for the bad news.

“You banged some stuff loose,” he said, explaining it’s just flimsy protection that some automakers put under an engine that doesn’t really do much good. “Nothing I couldn’t fix with a couple of zip ties,” he said. “Everything else looks fine.”

I looked at my watch. It started on the 6th Friday evening. ‘The thing is,’ he said, ‘I have to finish this engine I’m working on. I told the guy I was going to have it done today. I have to do it.” Here we goI thought. Motel rooms for the night, maybe even the weekend.

“Tell you what,” he said. “See that place over there?” He pointed. “It’s a place for Mexican food. You have good food. Go have dinner and come back. I’ll have it ready by then.”

I checked out the stained diner. I looked at him. Should I give him the keys? You were in my hands. “I don’t need the keys,” he said. “Just go eat. I’ll be there.”

He was right. The food was good. The waitress nice. A local ma and pa place that had good chicken enchiladas and rich, flavorful salsa with the fries. I sat alone. I couldn’t see the garage from where I was sitting.

When I came back, the mechanic was just climbing out from under the car. “I thought about just taking the shield off,” he said, “but I thought it best to just put it back on. Wherever you go, driving through snow can help. I think that’s what it’s for.”

He refused to name a price; He refused to accept my money. I slipped a couple of twenties into his hands and told him to keep them or give them to someone he thought might need them.

I made my way back west with a good memory and gratitude and good food inside me and a really beautiful sunset as I continued north in the descending darkness.

That’s the deal. For the past 10 years or so, every Thanksgiving, I’ve shared stories of people I owe a debt of gratitude to. It’s sort of a Thanksgiving tradition — maybe to encourage others to do the same. Pass on some gratitude.

The thing is, we all remember bad times and bad deals. Times when life treats us mean, things that go wrong. Big and small things. People who rip us off or things that just really hurt. Life distributes many such.

Sometimes, however, life—and the people we meet—do good things for seemingly no reason. We must also remember these times. And remember them whenever we have an opportunity to do something nice or good for someone else along the way. Without really expecting anything in return.

Like that guy in Tennessee. Or maybe Kentucky. Just a stranger on my way who helped me on my way. As if it had been put there all along for my benefit.


Kerry Temple is the editor of this journal.

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