Perfect Moments, Mishaps, and the Kindness of Strangers


August 3, 2017 by Jean

painted ladies & echinacea1

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.

Flat TireLast 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.

16 thoughts on “Perfect Moments, Mishaps, and the Kindness of Strangers

  1. smallstepstochangingyourlife says:

    This is just lovely! Sorry to hear about the mishaps – but you’re right, you never know what the butterfly effect of the mishaps can be. I think you are a wonderful writer and I hope to express myself as well as you one day. Hope your this week is better than the last!

  2. JeanR says:

    I’m surprised your car isn’t new enough to have OnStar built into it. It’s like having a cell phone but a hold lot cheaper and you can call anyone…mine is $12 a month and with it I get a full, monthly report of what’s going on inside my car. Roadside can diagnosis your car remotely, too, and bring the right parts with them if you’re broke down.

    Making lemonade out of lemons does make life easier and how lucky you were breaking down around nice people. The offer of a bathroom would have been a life-saver for me.

    I laughed at you resorting to reading the car manual. I would do that. I keep a book in the car about medical conditions and treatments, one condition on one page. I guess because I’m afraid if I put a book of fiction in the car I might not like it, making my wait time all the worse.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, I thought Onstar was a General Motors thing. (I’m a Toyota Prius driver.) I confess, though, that I ignored all the features with my car that required a monthly fee (like satellite radio, internet connectivity, etc.).

      I had to laugh about your choice of car reading material. I could imagine that, by the time help arrived, the traffic accident was cleared and the road reopened, or whatever, you could be convinced you were dying of some exotic disease. 😉 Nync’s comment (below) made me realize that I already have the perfect car reading — my Nook e-reader, a whole library in one small package.

      • JeanR says:

        You taught me something today. I didn’t know that about Onstar! And duh, on taking our e-readers with us in the car. What didn’t I think of that.

  3. Nync says:

    Hi Jean – So nice to see a post from you, and what an uplifting spirit you have to deal with life’s mishaps!

    When you get your cell phone, be sure to see about installing an app called OverDrive. It’s a little tricky to set up, but once you do, you can download books from the library (all free, of course). I’m reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roads to Quoz by William Least Heat-Moon – on my phone. Hope this service is available in Maine!

    • Jean says:

      Nync, Thanks for the suggestion. I am already familiar with OverDrive because I use it to borrow e-books from the library, which I then download to my Nook e-reader. And that made me realize that my Nook would be the perfect “book” (actually a whole library!) to take with me in the car. I don’t carry a purse, but I’m going to get a small purse-like “go bag” just big enough to hold a cell phone, my Nook, and my Day-Timer calendar, and take it with me whenever I’m in the car.

  4. Charles F. Emmons says:

    What a wonderful piece, Jean. I remember you talking about things you do to avoid having to do unpleasant things (like income tax or grading papers). Reading the car owner’s manual seems like a really good one. For me it’s cleaning my room. Actually, maybe you could work on your income tax if you get stranded again; it might be more fun than the owner’s manual.

    • Jean says:

      LOL, Charlie, it’s hard to imagine that I would have all the info to do my taxes with me in the car! Reading the owner’s manual while I waited allowed me to pretend that I had known all along how to access the wheel well with the spare tire and jack. 😉 (In the process, I discovered a whole storage compartment in my car that I hadn’t realized was there. For someone like me who likes “a place for everything and everything in it’s place”, that opened up exciting new possibilities!)

  5. Maine is full of thoughtful, friendly and helpful people. One of the many reasons I love it so much. While I can’t imagine your hesitation is related to technology issues. Your story reminded me of something. My little brother, who lives with my husband and I, was in a horrible work accident last year. In the first days, when he was unconscious in the ICU, my grandparents drove from Calais to CMMC, which is a long drive for anyone. We didn’t know if he was going to make it, and if he did, how long he’d be there. We were assigned a caseworker, whereas it was a workers comp type deal. At our first meeting with the caseworker, my grandmother was so worried that she wouldn’t be able to see him often or talk to him. The caseworker said “I have a fantastic IT guy. I’ll send him up to Calais with a laptop and get you set up so you can video chat with JJ.” My grandmother was weary, and declined the offer. She said “I am 78 years old! I can’t run a computer! I dont know how to video chat!” – Long story short. My grandmother now has a tablet for video chatting and is better at facebook than I am….

    • Jean says:

      Darci, While there is much I love about Maine, I consider the people of Maine its greatest treasure.

      I’m not a techno-phobe, but I tend not to adopt new technologies unless I think they will improve the quality of my life. My resistance to cell phone technology is mostly about evidence of their detrimental effects on quality of life. (See, for example, the research reported by Sherry Turkle in her book Reclaiming Conversation.) The research shows that the presence of a cell phone, even if it is turned off, makes it much more difficult for people to focus on the people they are with or to live in the moment.

      Your story about your grandmother made me smile. I got my mother her first computer after she was widowed at age 80, and she took to it like a duck to water. If she found herself suffering from insomnia, she would get up and play games online. On one of those occasions, one of her California grandsons, checking his email before he went to bed (midnight his time, but 3 a.m. on the east coast), messaged her, “Grandma, what are you doing online at this time of the night?!?”

  6. Ellie Leight says:

    I felt the same as you about cell phones for years but decided several years ago that one really is a necessity when doing any kind of travel, especially in rural Maine–such as trying to take the scenic back roads to Shaw’s in Auburn. So I researched and found the cheapest to be a Tracfone. I purchased one for $20 at Walmart, but you can buy one online at the Tracfone site. And there are all kinds. I have the lowly (don’t tell anyone) flip phone, but you can have a much more up to date model if you wish. Then you buy the minutes right online. I bought a year’s worth for about $100. Since the minutes rolled over if unused, I have now accumulated a lot more than a year’s worth and paid a lot less because I didn’t need to buy so many. I still don’t use the phone much but like the idea of always being able to communicate when driving around.

    • GARY says:

      Good advice Ellie,

    • Jean says:

      Thanks for these suggestions, Ellie. Tracfone is exactly what I have in mind. There are a couple on sale at Best Buy for under $20. The 120 minute/90 day card for $19.99 ($17.99 if you sign up for automatic recharging) seems like the best deal at only $6 per month.

  7. Diana Studer says:

    I am still using my first ever cell phone. It is useful but. I have it switched off, out of sight out of mind, most of the time. But good to have available when needed. And the ‘always’ to hand camera is good too.

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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