August 3, 2017 by Jean
Life is inevitably made up of high points and low points, perfect moments and things that go wrong. Generally, I’m good at finding and savoring the small perfect moments – the great blue heron that sometimes hangs out in the river I cross during my morning walk, the whirring sound that alerts me to a hummingbird feeding at the flowers in my garden, or the sight of butterflies nectaring on the purple coneflowers.
Last week, however, those perfect moments were offset by more than my usual number of mishaps. On Thursday, I got up at the crack of dawn and made the ninety-minute drive out to the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens for the first day of a two-day course only to learn when I got there that the class had been cancelled. On Sunday morning, when I went out to the Farmers’ Market, I had a couple of those worrisome “brain farts” that seem to become more common as we age. In the first, a road that I frequently travel on suddenly seemed unfamiliar. In the second, I almost pulled out of an intersection into the path of a car that I had somehow missed seeing when I stopped at the stop sign and looked both ways. And then, on Sunday afternoon, while I was driving to a program at the McLaughlin Garden, I heard a loud bang and something hitting the undercarriage of my car near the right rear wheel. A minute later, the low tire pressure indicator came on; and when I found a wide shoulder where I could pull over, I discovered that one of my brand new tires was flat. I have roadside assistance through my auto insurance policy, but I ended up spending more than four hours sitting on the side of the road waiting for them to arrive.
I’m a silver lining type, so my response to these mishaps is to look for benefits or at least ways things could be worse. When I learned that my class at the Botanical Gardens had been cancelled, my first reaction was disappointment and annoyance that I had driven all that way for nothing. Within minutes, though, I realized that I now had two unexpectedly unscheduled days – sort of like snow days, but with much better weather! Three days later, as I sat on the side of the road waiting for roadside assistance, I reminded myself to be grateful that it was a gorgeous summer day, with sunshine, temperatures in the mid-seventies and nice breezes, not a ninety-degree day or a sub-zero winter day. And I found ways to use my time productively, updating my calendar and to-do lists. (Nevertheless, I made a note to myself never again to leave home without a book; after finishing my to-do lists, I was reduced to reading the owner’s manual for my car!)
Those who know me personally and regular readers may be aware that I am one of the last five people in the United States (in the world??) without a cell phone. So when I realized I needed to call for roadside assistance, my first task was to find a telephone. Fortunately, I was on a stretch of rural road with lots of houses. I started with the house across the street from where I had pulled off the road and rousted the owner, a man about my age, from his pool house. When I explained my situation and asked to use a phone, he was very accommodating, going into the house to get a cordless phone and then waiting patiently and chatting with me while I worked my way through the call center phone tree and waited on hold for a roadside assistance service representative.
It probably shouldn’t be surprising that I had some trouble getting assistance from my roadside assistance provider. It was a Sunday afternoon, during a time of the year when many workers take vacations and service staffs can be spread thin, and I was in rural Maine, not in a major city or its nearby suburbs. When I got through to a roadside assistance representative, she discovered that she could not find a service provider who could be at my location in less than 2 1/2 hours. I said I would wait (since I didn’t really have any other good options). While I waited, a man whose driveway I was stopped near came out to talk to me and suggested that I pull into his driveway, which might be safer than my place on the side of the road. He also said that if I needed anything while I was waiting, I should knock on his door and ask. (I took him up on the latter offer, asking to use his bathroom.) When my roadside assistance still hadn’t arrived after 3 1/2 hours (an hour longer than the estimate), I went back to the first house and asked to use the phone again. This time, the wife of the man who had helped me earlier was home and invited me in. While I used the phone, she fixed me a glass of ice water and expressed both concern and sympathy. The second phone call produced assistance within about 30 minutes, from two very nice men who were genuinely upset about how long I had been waiting. While I was waiting for them to arrive, the man who had allowed me to use his bathroom hours earlier came back out to check on me and asked if he could drive me somewhere.
My flat tire experience made me realize that it’s time to reconsider my cell-phone-free life. Although I had no trouble finding a phone in an emergency, it quickly became clear that services like roadside assistance assume that you will have a cell phone with you and be able to receive calls and texts from them. I think my lack of a cell phone contributed to the miscommunications that left me waiting on the side of the road for almost five hours. The experience also reminded me, however, of what kind and generous people Mainers are and confirmed my love of Maine as a place to live. If you need to rely on the kindness of strangers, this is a good place to be.