Our car broke down today. Yeah, the screaming-yellow, suck-your-bank-account-to-the-bone, German hot-rod wouldn’t start after an hour’s drive in the California hills. We stopped for gas but the absence of ignition stopped us from leaving the gas station. The car was dead from a complete electrical failure.
Long story short: My husband and I met four perfect strangers. These individuals shared their knowledge, tools, and abilities, helped us out, and were as different from the two of us as four people could be.
The Harley guy
They were, first, a Harley Davidson motorcyclist, clad in intimidating motorcycle garb, with his name “BRUESER” emblazoned in large white letters on the jacket. Black leather, of course. I asked him if he had an allen wrench. I used my best eyelash-batting, polite, little-girl voice for the question. Our tools were inaccessible, locked in the trunk, which unlocked only if there was electricity, of which there was none.
He did. Brueser unrolled his softpack rollable tool chest without a word. Out came the allen wrench and a line-up of gleaming un-metric chrome tools. Out came the license plate from our bumper along with some very large bolts. The tow hook was now exposed. Our car would soon be hooked to and towed away with this device.
A genuine smile crept over Brueser’s face. He seemed glad to have helped two clueless adults. Without so much as another word, he powered up his big black Harley and thundered away.
The gas station guy
Second was the gas station owner, a man from the Far East, as far as one can tell from appearances and an accent. He brought his personal car around seeking to jump start ours with cables and a power pack. That attempt did not start up our car. He looked disappointed that he couldn’t help us, while totally unplussed that we cut into the day’s gasoline revenues by blocking a gas pump for several hours.
The tow trucker
Third was the tow truck driver. He was a Chaldean Christian from Iraq. My name is Raan, spelled R A A N, he said; you say it the same as you would say the name ‘Ron,’ R O N, here. Raan knew more about spelling in English, German cars, electrical circuits, mechanics, and automobile ignition systems than anybody named Ron. Raan definitely knew more about our car than we knew about our car. Perhaps he was used to towing them around! What that said about our car was not something good.
He treated our car like the prima donna we think it is, putting a towel between it and the tow hook so as not to scratch the paint. He insisted on one last jump-start attempt, after electrifying the stubborn vehicle enough to open the electric hood latch. The jump failed to start the car, but if it had, he would have followed us to our destination just in case it pooped out again. Wow. An empty flatbed following a sportscar for safety! Unheard-of in the America that I know, but what do I know?
A nicer, more knowledgeable person you could not meet. We learned more about our car from Raan than reading the world’s literature on the subject, including the owner’s manual. We sent Raan carrying our car away, trusting him entirely to deliver it to the dealer some five miles away.
You’re letting Raan take our car without us, I wondered aloud to my husband. What do you think, he’ll drive it to Iraq?
And last, the taxi driver who took us home was a man from Iran. He arrived in an unmistakable classical cab-screaming yellow, shot shock absorbers, and hotter than Haiti inside the cab–only three minutes after I called. We told him of our encounter with the Iraqi tow truck guy. He knew of the Chaldean Christians, so I asked him where he was from. Iran, he said, ‘yeah, the country is taken over by the fanatics’ without my even asking about that.
He got us home in a quick ten minutes while he talked knowledgeably about Iran’s 8-year war with Iraq. I regretted revealing our encounter with Raan, the Iraqi, thinking he and the cabby must be mortal enemies. Unconcerned, he drove on, talking about atrocities going on in his neck of the woods since the Shah was ousted thirty years ago in Iran.
I would never in my normal lifetime have spoken to these four men. I would never have learned what hard-working souls they are, looking only to make their own way in this conflicted world, to live freely while having a little fun here and there, and helping out Americans like us who know a lot about the wrong things.
I learned more about Iran, Iraq, the Far East and Catholics so unlike me from across the globe than all the news reports on TV. And not one of these guys uttered an unkind word. That must be because they are not unkind people.
I learned a lot today when our car broke down.