This Just In From RL

Well, SL logins are currently disabled (although they may be reenabled while I write this), so I thought I’d post a short commercial break from RL, brought to you by the makers of Realness, Kindness, and Helpfulness.

Yesterday, I hopped the RL grid.  I travelled north on a long stretch of backroads on what turned out to be a lovely winter day under a brighty silvery-grey sky.  The sky seemed to want to release something; it didn’t until around midnight last night, at which time it erupted into yet another winter thunderstorm (so strange to experience lightening and thunder and tornado warnings in December and now January).  But far before all of that…in fact, just about 20 minutes into my drive out onto the lumbering backroads, I was troubled by a surreal sensation provided by my car.  It wobbled.  I nearly became seasick from the lurching, pitching rolls between one tire to the other.

Now, I’m a pretty capable, independent individual.  Never claim to know everything; who does?  Besides, what fun would that be?  But I’m typically pretty good at figuring out solutions (or if not solutions, at least, next steps) to problems.  The lurching of the car, however?  It became increasingly clear to me that this was (gasp) a *vehicular* problem.  I’m not too good with fixing cars…or with even knowing what the next steps should be.  I admit this particular bit of DNA skipped me.  I know how to strap in, turn it on, rev an engine, put the pedal to the metal, and fly…erm, drive.  But things like tires that are pretty darn critically important?  Well, all that I know is that, um, they are pretty darn critically important.  

So I’m driving with all of this in my mind, as I’m lurching down a very long and winding stretch of isolated backroad with nary another vehicle or person in sight.  Just me and the wind and the sky and the earth and the road and the horizon.  And, instead of the radio, a voice in my head played.  When it comes to vehicular difficulties, that voice (mine) said, “Just keep going.  It will be fine.”    But the more my auto-challenged-pollyanna voice played in my head, the more I heard my father, who had passed away almost seven years ago now.  He was direct and to the point, smiles, just as he always was. 

“Kid, find a gas station.” 

As much as I tried to la-la-la the tire concerns away, Dad’s reasoned voice gently cut through my internal chatter.   “Find a gas station.”  I think I even saw the look in his eye.  You know the one.  The one that asks (more as a directive, less a question) without saying “Are you listening to me?” 

Thankfully, I did, because despite my tra-la-la-ing, I also did the mental calculation and realized I was 1-1/2 hours away from my destination and all those seconds within those 1-1/2 hours were going to include travelling very long, fairly empty stretches of backroads through tiny towns interspersed here and there.  So, I white-knuckled the steering wheel and hoped to heavens that my father or fate or God or karma could somehow ensure that none of my tires would blow out and that I could control what, at higher speeds, became an increasingly off-centered alignment of the steering while I traveled a stretch of 20 minutes until the next town on the horizon in a car with nervously wobbling tires (that made me feel like the car had some kind of rocking gangsta booster thing going on) .

Thankfully, as life would have it, I did make it to the next sleepy town, and to two gas stations, neither of which had functioning air pumps.  I’m thinking there’s a run on air for some reason, how odd.  And I’m also thinking to myself I may have to cut this jaunt short and whiteknuckle my way back if I don’t come across a gas station, because by this point, my father’s voice didn’t even need to play in my mind.  I just saw his face in my mind, and knew he was right.  This was not safe driving.  In fact, it was probably dangerous.  So I creep along the Main Street of this little town (every little town has a Main Street), and I see the third gas station.  I pull in and find a functioning air pump.  Now, you’d think problem solved, right?  Cringes.  Well, I don’t have the air pump DNA either.  And, this I confess, stems from a story a friend told me many years ago about how one could blow a tire by overfilling it with air.  True or not, perhaps, I don’t know.  But this was one thing I’ve not ever wanted to test.  So I walk into the gas station.  And I see a local townie older man in a jacket, jeans, and a Caterpillar baseball cap sitting in the middle of the aisle with a cup of coffee.  The gas station attendant is out from behind the counter, and the two of them are chatting.  Must have been the look on my face, but when I entered, they both stopped talking, looked at me, and no doubt, could tell I was rather nonplussed.   I admitted that I didn’t know how to properly fill tires with air (even referring to myself as an airhead in this instance, just because I rather liked the pun).  And I admitted also that the not knowing was probably a genetic deficiency on my part, to which the gas station attendant (a female) took mild offense (politely so, but I could tell I had pushed a button with the sexism I brought to the room when it comes to all things gender and car care).  Well, the CAT cap older man snorted and said, “No, you’re right.  It’s a genetic thing.  My wife lacks the same gene.”   So while the gas station attendant looked for a tire pressure gauge, the CAT cap guy headed outside to my car.  Now, I thought this man worked at the gas station.  Turns out, he doesn’t.  And I didn’t even think to ask him this until after he inspected all of my tires (they were at 20 pounds of pressure, yikes!) and after he explained that it’s hard to see when radial tires are low on air because they don’t show it and after he showed me the seal and explained how glue is used to seal the radial to the rim to prevent air loss and after he explained how you have to watch the air pressure in tires even more in winter because the cold weather causes contraction and the changing temperatures cause expansion and all of this amounts to increased air leakage and after he showed me where to look on the tires for the pressure ideal/indicator (32-35), and said critical is 15 and I was a mere 5 pounds of pressure above critical on all tires, and after he confirmed that, yes, that type of low air pressure would cause the car to wobble, after he filled all of my tires up to 32-35 pounds, and even after all of that, he explained how moisture can get into the air pressure tanks and freeze up (hence the non-functioning air pumps at the previous two gas stations).   This old man (laughs, suddenly hearing that kid’s song in my head) spent a good 15-20 minutes checking out the tires, fixing the problem, and very politely educating me on all things tires.  As importantly, he confirmed what my father’s voice and image had always known (and truly, what I knew deep in my gut, car DNA or no car DNA)…that it was, in fact, very dangerous for me to be driving (particularly at 60 mph) on tires that low.  But I was at least comforted to learn also, as mentioned earlier, that it’s very difficult to see an indication of low air with radial tires.  

So this was all way neat.   And I hate to sound all preachy or moral-of-the-story-ish but you know…not only was I helped — very casually yet very greatly so — by a complete stranger, I also learned pretty important stuff from him about what I always knew to be pretty important stuff on a car:  tires.  (I just hope I remember this information about tires.)  And somehow I have to say that perhaps the most important thing that got to me with all of this, was the reminder – ever so gently so in a sleepy little town on a sleepy little silvery-grey wintery day – this gentle reminder of how real people can be…caring and helpful and real.  And how cool it can be when we make an effort to be this way with each other along the way – even if it’s only for 15 minutes out of an entire lifetime and even if we don’t even really know each other.   I don’t expect I’ll see the CAT cap old man again…but because of help and kindness and realness with the small things (filling tires with air), which often are linked to larger things (avoiding a lifethreatening accident), we’re all made that much better and this shared existence that we all have on this planet in this universe is that much nicer.  I was very lucky, and I know it.  

Why those occurrences sometimes happen, I don’t know.  But I’m grateful for these small and large mysteries of life…even the strangely amusing ones.  Like, why a bag of baby carrots would freeze in the refrigerator (the fridge, not the freezer) when nothing else in the fridge comes anywhere near freezing.  Like I said, a mystery.  But.  Both of them (the unforeseen help and the freezing baby carrots) made me smile.