So my car is unloaded, and the furniture is arriving tomorrow. It's official, I live in Austin. My heart is still adjusting, but I'm glad to be here.
I wouldn't, however, be sitting here in the air conditioned comfort of my new apartment, typing away like nothing was amiss, had it not been for my two bubba guardian angels. Yep, that's right. God Bless all those good Southern boys.
Outside of Nashville on my trek out here, my front driver's side tire blew out. And by blow out I don't mean I popped a flat, I mean I managed to run over something like a lug nut or piece of metal, and my tire made the sound of a loud, grinding explosion. Somehow I managed to slow down and pull over to the shoulder of I-40. I was stunned, and the side of my car was smoking, filling the inside with the smell of burning rubber. I was royally stranded.
At the same time that I pulled over, a large black pickup pulled up in front of me. The vehicle started backing up towards me at a healthy clip, and in my confusion I started pounding my horn. What the hell is going on here, I thought to myself. Who are these people? The truck stopped, and two tall White bubbas get out of their truck and start walking towards my car. You have to visualize this: two tall, sunburned men, with matching blonde crew cuts, shirtless, blue jeans and work boots, walking towards my car. I was scared out of my mind. Every terrible story I'd ever heard cycled through my head. They beckoned me to get out and talk to them, and I grabbed my cell phone and got out of the car.
"You need some help, ma'am?"
Turns out the two had seen the whole tire blow out and pulled over at the same time to help. Between narrowly missing a major traffic wreck and being totally stranded, I was utterly dazed. I managed to squeak out to them "uh, but why are you helping me?"
The older of the two shrugged, and said "looks like you need help, is all. Where's your spare?"
Next thing I know, they had popped off the wrecked tire, and put on the donut. I have never seen a tire get changed out so fast. "Spare's low on air, we'll follow you to the next gas station. Don't worry, there' lots of tire shops down yonder. We'll be right behind you."
Crawling down the highway, they sheparded me towards the next service station, and then on to not one, not two, but THREE tire shops until I found someone who could fix the tire. Along the way I learned a little about them - the younger one's mother was born in DC (he shares, after he looks at my DC tags.) The older one's "got people in Laurel, MD." Apparently he spent a good amount of summers there, growing up. Both work construction, but the younger one is going to college to study criminal justice. The older one's dad owns a construction company. They're cousins, and had just gotten off shift when they saw my predicament.
As they were filling the spare, we watch a heap of a truck backfire down the country road. "Looks like someone needs a few new spark plugs, there." The heap lets out an enormous bang. "Yup," says the other "that was a good one, huh." I think to myself, I should play the lottery today because the Tennesseean Click and Clack brothers just saved me from being utterly stranded.
They wouldn't take money. They were utterly gracious and warm, and even now, and probably for a long time, I'm speechless with gratitude. And I have to admit, having spent my whole life in urban centers, where people don't really take time with one another, the whole experience was incredibly singular. My whole perception of the South (and frankly, of random acts of human kindness) was transformed. People really ARE genuinely friendly.
As I got back on the road, I was reminded of a story a friend told me. Mike is a buddy of mine, tall and broad - a big Black guy built like a line backer, with a huge mane of locks. Mike works for a men's halfway house, that helps people transitioning out of rehab or minor offenses. One day he was driving the house's van up 16th Street in Northwest during rush hour. The van broke down, and he was stranded in the middle of DC. No one stopped, everyone was honking their horn, irritated that he was plugging up traffic. Mike didn't know what to do, and then out of no where, a truck stopped with (according to Mike) a Stars and Bars sticker in the back window. This big Southern White guy (trucker cap and overalls) gets out and walks over, asking Mike if he needs some help. He gives Mike's van a jump, and also gives him a diagnostic on what's wrong with the engine. Then he gets back in his truck and drives away.
So perhaps my experience isn't so unique. Driving in to Arkansas on my way to Texas, I counted five broken down cars on the shoulder. Four of them had people who had stopped to help out the stranded person. Not tow-trucks or service cars, just regular people, helping out someone in need.
I've left everything I've ever known behind me, but somehow, it's a little less terrifying now. Turns out, in the real South - outside of what the media wants you to think, outside of regional biases, outside of fear - in the real South, no one goes it alone.
And thanks to my Twitter family for keeping me company on the three day road trip - via twitter or sometimes on the phone :) THANK YOU for seeing me through this: @davekarpf @paukku @MegaRan @KathleenLD @JoelStevenCoon @aharris75 @shayera @kirohara @johnnyb0731 @xtall68 @DistrictofAris @lrothschild @martinboz @rpbp @laurinmanning @mollytics @mehzombie @aliceinthewater @dhskee @You2Gov @RichHL @hkremer @johnbrougher @ibenjaminbarnes @joaquinhguerra @TeresaKopec @cacowan (haha, "please keep not dying", very funny.) @celeloriel @adamjbink @LeahsGotIt @pigtailpals @cksieloff @LWP @skyle @NoMemoryJill @MsNovember @holdie1 @five13 @mergyeugnau @ravenb @Suezeta @grioghar @readergirl @Jadesfire @texas__ex @kbladow
(And yes, Blogger.com gods, those are my friends. It ain't spam, tyvm.)