Last summer I wanted to drive home to avoid paying a million dollars for a plane ticket to Louisiana. It is a trip I have made approximately 7 billion times in my 23 years of life, but had never driven the 14 hours alone. Although my AC stopped working in Memphis I made it there without incident, and felt like an unbeatable force for getting myself all the way there. I was a champion of women, unafraid of the open road and filled with the spirit of adventure. I spent a week at home, and then woke up Saturday morning with the intentions of driving back to Ohio.
I woke up to a flat tire. Not a somewhat low tire, not a tire that needed a little air, but a completely airless, hilariously deflated tire. Twenty minutes later my uncle was pulling a giant screw out of it. An hour later we had put on my spare, removed the screw and patched the flat. I backed out of their driveway at 7am with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Everything in me told me to go back inside, eat some breakfast, take a nap and start over the next day.
About 7 hours later I had crossed two state lines and got an hour outside of Jackson Tennessee, essentially the exact halfway point between my family in Ohio and my family in Louisiana. I was flying down highway 40 munching on a McDonald’s hash brown and jamming to the radio when I started to smell something a little weird. I happened to glance down at my dashboard and saw that my temperature gauge was all the way on HOT. My heart sunk into my stomach, directly next to my half digested hash brown. I looked up and saw a rest stop and veered through two lanes of traffic to take it. As I pulled in steam started billowing out from under my hood, I put it in park and put my head down on my steering wheel and sent out a quick prayer to the Universe, “Don’t do this to me Man, pick another day to come at me.” (Did I say prayer to the universe? Maybe it was more of a threat, at the very least an angry plea)
I opened my car door and stepped out to stare at the hood from the front, still steaming. About ten seconds into me staring my car back to full health a very obese old guy smoking the biggest cigar I’ve ever seen pulls in next to me. He rolls down the window and says “well are you gonna pop the hood or just stand there?”
I pop the hood and he leans in waving the steam away. He says “you got any water?”
I grab a half full bottle of water from the backseat and hand it to him, he pours it over the radiator and hands back the empty vessel “go fill this up we gotta cool this baby down”
I head to the water fountain to refill the bottle, weighing the possibilities of this guy being a psycho killer and my best bet being my ability to outrun him based on his size and apparent cigar smoking habit. I get back to my car and see that he’s been joined by his shorter, slightly less obese wife. She makes small talk with me while her husband pokes around under my hood, she tells me they’re headed home to Louisville and I tell her I’m heading to Ohio.
Her husband chimes in “sounds like you got a long way to go” “yessir” he points under the hood and shows me a small crack in my radiator, the steam beginning to subside. He tells me that driving it any further is probably a bad idea and asks how far away my family is. I call my dad and break the news, starting the conversation with my obligatory “don’t panic everything is okay buuutttt”
My dad talks to my obese roadside savior on the phone, assures him that he’s on his way. I thank them profusely and assure them that I’ll be fine, my dad will be here shortly, I have a phone charger and snacks to keep me occupied in the meantime. I sit back in my car and wait for my new friends to leave.
Before they pull away the wife gets out of their truck and comes back over to me
“Now we just feel real bad about leaving you here all by yourself.” I assure her I’ll be fine. “You seem like a smart young lady, and I’m not tryin’ to scare you, but you really can’t trust anyone out here. A few years ago they found this young girls’ body near where I work, and really I don’t want to scare you but she was probably about your age, and she’d broken down on the side of the road just outside of Louisville and a trucker stopped to help her and he ended up raping and murdering her and dumping her body in the woods behind where I work. I just want you to know you gotta be real careful out here and can’t trust anybody”
Great. I thank my roadside guardian and assure again that I’m okay, I have no plans of talking to anyone while i’m stranded, just going to sit in my car and listen to some tunes and not get abducted or murdered. Eventually she leaves and the panic starts to creep into the back of my throat but I swallow it, “not getting murdered today, no sir not me” I keep telling myself. By now I had notified all the right people (my sister, my dad, some cousins, an aunt) and my phone is BLOWING UP. My dad trying to figure out where I am, me continuously telling him “I’m at the Loretta Lynn and Hank Williams rest stop on highway 40. No I don’t remember what mile marker I’m at. Yes I was paying attention I just quickly forgot once my car started steaming.”
About an hour into my being stranded I was soaking wet with sweat, my eyes were burning, my dress was literally wringing with sweat, the touch screen on my phone wasn’t working properly because the screen was wet from my fingers and the whole phone kept shutting down because it was overheated. It was just at a hundred degrees and I was sitting in my car (so as not to get abducted by truckers) and couldn’t stop thinking about those Celine Dion commercials where pets are trapped in vehicles in the summer heat.
Eventually I remembered that my uncles ex wife whom he had just remarried was, last I heard, working in Jackson, TN, as a surgeon’s assistant. I called my uncle and left a voicemail, eventually he called back and I got her number, I called her and left a voicemail, and eventually she called back and I told her what was going on. “Well hot damn baby, I’ll be there as quick as I can.” she said and hung up the phone.
For the next two hours I sat in my car feeling stupid. I was crying but no one could even tell because the sweat was coming out faster than the tears, I couldn’t get my dad’s voice out of my head from when I had first told him I wanted to drive home and he said, “And what happens when you break down?” and I kept saying “Dad I won’t break down stop being so negative.”
Finally, after sitting in my car for almost 5 hours total, my aunt Barbara pulled up next to my broken down jeep. She drove me 3 miles down the road to the nearest hotel and bought me dinner at Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen, a fine establishment where the roof leaks, the catfish is crumbly, and the wallpaper is peeling from the walls (Loretta, I’m sure, would not be proud). She took me to the gas station and bought me snacks and then dropped me off at the hotel I had booked from the comfort of my car. The air conditioning hit me at full force, drying my sweat and giving me goose bumps. I spent the night crying in my bed and watching the news coverage of the death of Mohammed Ali.
My Dad arrived early the next morning. We used gas station super glue to patch the radiator and then ate breakfast (I talked him out of Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen) I was feeling all kinds of shame, embarrassed that I’d broken down and had to be rescued, sorry that my Dad had had to drive the 500 miles to get me. And then he started telling me about all of the times he’d broken down on the very same road, all of the different cars he had been driving at the time and all of the people who had had to come and pick him up. When I had started my drive home I was terrified, the night before I left I laid in bed going through my different fears and determining if they were rational or irrational. 1. Getting lost (irrational) 2. Getting tired (rational) 3. Getting abducted at a gas station (somewhere in the middle) 4. Breaking down (rational)
I had been so afraid before it happened, and when it did happen it sucked, like REALLY sucked. But I got through it, I took each obstacle that was thrown my way and I handled it. I don’t think every misadventure is meant to teach you a lesson, sometimes things just suck and when they’re over you say a prayer and keep on walking. But this one I’ll always look back on because as much as it sucked, as embarrassing as it was, it taught me that it is OKAY TO MESS UP ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU’RE STEPPING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE ALREADY. You just have to be smart, keep a cool head, and rely on the people you love to help you out (and also maybe don’t talk to truckers outside of Louisville because I hear that sometimes they murder young girls on the roadside).