If you follow me on social media, you are well-aware that last week was a trying week for me. If you are not interested in putting the time into reading this post, I’ll go ahead and give you a simple and abridged version:
My car broke down in the middle of nowhere, and I was forced to build a fire, hunt for food, and live off the land.
Okay, so that’s not exactly what happened, however it was still quite the traumatic 48 hours for me. A few weeks ago, I made the creative decision that I would drive from Bloomington, Indiana to Washington, D.C., with hopes of celebrating the 4th of July and also one of my dearest friend’s birthdays. I love spending time in my car, and figured a 10-hour trip was nothing compared to some previous trips I had taken in the past. I also chose to look past 9-years of driving my car across the country, and also the well-over 165,000 miles I have acquired.
Alas, my trip commenced. The first 3.5 hours were a piece of cake – Bloomington to Columbus, Ohio was an easy drive, and I even stopped in town to dine with a good friend of mine. Following a delicious bagel, I hopped back into the car (“Huck,” as previously identified), with plans to power through the final 6.5 hours of driving I had ahead. Around two hours into the 6.5 final trek to D.C., a sharp, whipping sound came screeching from my engine-area, which ceased after a minute or two. Ah, I’m good, must have been a bird or something, I thought to myself.
Wrong. Just as I was saying a prayer for the “bird” I had just killed, every light on my dash appeared, and with blinking vengeance. Battery light: on. Airbag light: on. Gas light: on. Brake light: on. Check Engine light: on (though, I should add, this light has been on for about seven years now, but that’s neither here nor there). I was a mess. I instantly went into, please-car-if-I’ve-done-anything-for-you-in-this-life-don’t-you-dare-fail-me-now, mode. Needless to say, he failed me.
At this point, I had no clue which state I was in, and my phone’s map was listing me somewhere around the hills and border of West Virginia or Maryland. All lights were blinking, and now my radio, air conditioning, and windows were also no longer working. Going about 15 MPH, I put-putted up a ramp, near tears and nearing 6:00PM. Who would be open, and who would be able to help me at this time of day, I thought. I should also note that in this time of crisis, and with all my preconceived assumptions of the people of West Virginia, I have never been more aware of the HRC sticker on my car as I was in that moment. I was genuinely uncomfortable and scared.
Just as my car took his final “breath,” I rolled right into a parking spot at a Valero/liquor store, which also happened to be the only sign of civilization. I walked into the gas station/liquor store, approached the two women at the counter, and said, “My car broke down. I need help.” Within a few minutes of exchanges, these two had their phone books out and were flipping through the pages to help find me a mechanic or tow truck. We called several numbers of mechanics “in town” (which in this case, “in town,” meant thirty minutes away), however everyone was closed and no one was picking up. I was crushed. I went outside, took two deep breaths, and walked back into the gas station. “Please help me. I cannot be stuck here.” Megan looked at me (I needed to remember these names in case I disappeared and later needed to recount this story for my Lifetime movie), smiled, and said, “I think I can help. My boyfriend does some mechanic things.” She then wrote on a scrap piece of paper, “COLE,” followed by a phone number. “Call him. I’m sure he’ll come help.”
I thanked her profusely, then creepily called Cole. Our conversation went something like this:
“Um, hi. Cole? Yeah, this is Michael Goodman. Yeah, hi. No, you don’t know me. Yeah, I just broke down on the highway, and your girlfriend, who is just wonderful, by the way, suggested I call you.”
“What’s wrong with your car?” I answer Cole, with the most dramatic version of my despair. “Cool, I’m on my way, and I’ll check it out for you. See you in fifteen minutes,” he concluded.
Fifteen minutes later, a blue pick-up truck came whipping around the corner, and out stumbled a young and bearded 20-something, cigarette in mouth, and camouflage hat on tight. This particular truck was the exact truck we used at camp to do maintenance-like tasks, and there was a calm that came over me as Cole approached my car. We shook hands, and that’s when Cole stabbed me.
Okay, not really. But I did replay this possible scenario over and over in my head before his arrival. Cole was actually a total gem. He looked at my car, knew exactly what I needed (some belt, or something about a broke-down alternator), and then proceeded to pull out a shredded piece of belt from my hood. I gasped, Cole laughed. He then told me he needed to run “to town,” and would be back after buying this specific part. I gave him $43, which was all I had in my wallet at the time, and promised him I would mail him any additional monies spent on today’s endeavor. And just like that, Cole drove off.
An hour and a half later, and after some serious pacing around my car while waiting for Cole, my back-woods-angel showed up with the part, and an accompanying chipper attitude. Within twenty minutes, and after some tool-work, Cole looked at me and said, “I think we’re ready to jump her.” We attached the jumper-cables, charged up the battery, and started my car with a resounding, “vroom!” It was magical. Cole had fixed my car, and without any hesitation. I then begged Cole to let me pay him, to which he declined over and over. “I’ve been here, bud. I have needed the same thing done for me,” he said. I then ran inside, and with Megan’s suggestion, bought Cole a case of Yuengling. This was apparently his favorite beer, and I placed it in his truck as he was packing up his tools (along with a bottle of Oliver wine, which was in my car for the friends I was no longer going to see in D.C. later that night). Cole gave me some instructions for the next day’s travels, watched me drive off, and popped in a cigarette to accompany the grin on his face.
As I reflected on this incident through the weekend, I am reminded that Cole owed me absolutely nothing. Hell, up until that evening, I was a complete stranger to him. And as I look back at that frustrating afternoon (preceding a few minor issues the next day), I realize that I was truly lucky to have driven up to that gas station in that specific town at that specific moment (of course, I still don’t really know which town I was actually in). The purpose of this post is not to complain about my situation or to make a mountain out of a molehill (though, I did call my dear friend after all of this, who said, “Well Michael, you always do know how to make a turd beautiful”), rather, the goal for this post is reaffirm my belief in paying it forward. Doing better. Living more like Cole.
How hard is it to give up three hours of your life and help a stranger? To me, this experience was the purest form of selflessness. Cole had absolutely nothing to gain from fixing my car, and he did so out of the goodness of his heart. As I drove away, I yelled out the window, “Thanks, again. Megan’s lucky to have you, my friend.” He laughed, and I sped down the street to find a hotel for the night.
So I ask these final questions: How are you living more like Cole? What can you do today, this week, next month, to help someone? Will you offer your services, and be selfless? Or, will you merely sit by and allow others to navigate their own struggles? From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate Megan and Cole’s selflessness, and am committed to taking their lead in doing what I can to help another out. Will you do the same?