Last night as I drove back to my temporary home from the downtown Monterey market 40 minutes away, I smiled at the abundance that was in my car. For less than $20, I had a bag of fresh salad greens (including flower petals), brussels sprouts as big as my fist, fragrant cilantro, two meyer lemons, dark green kale, half a pound of spinach, and a head of garlic. As happens more every day, I was brought nearly to tears at the sheer gratitude of being here, in this place, with a wonderful home to live in and a car full of fresh, local vegetables to eat all week.
|Meyer lemons and persimmons at the market|
|Downtown Monterey Tuesday night market|
My blissful train of thought was interrupted by the check engine light, which caused me to look down at my dash, which caused me to see that my temperature gauge was up into the red "danger" zone. I pulled over immediately and breathed deeply, reminding myself to stay grounded and focused, and at the same time realizing that it was nighttime and I knew no one here.
I shut off the car, got out, and did what any strong, capable, independent woman would do in this situation.
I called my dad.
He helped a bit, then suggested I call my uncle, who knows more about cars. My uncle talked me through how to add water to the radiator reservoirs, all the way from the other side of the country. However, I only had a half gallon of water in my car, which was not nearly enough to cool my engine to even get me to the next exit.
Turns out my life was abundant in everything but antifreeze.
My uncle suggested I try to walk or ride the bike that was strapped to the back of my car to the nearest gas station for water. I thanked him for his help and hung up. I stood on the side of the road in the warm California night, next to my raised hood, feeling my hair blown back by each car as it whizzed by. I hugged myself around my sheer, flowered shirt.
This is it. This is when I put my money where my mouth is. I've been going on and on for weeks about being grateful that I am cared for by some unseen force; about how everything always works out exactly as it should. Even this? I asked myself. Can I trust in that benevolent force even when my car, my HOME has broken down in a town where I know no one, at night, and I am almost out of money?
Yes, I decided. Yes I could. And I would.
I got back into my car, breathed deeply once again, smiled in preemptive gratitude for the way that I knew things would work out, and considered my options. I had less than $100 left in my wallet - all the money to my name until I get paid for this housesitting gig. I didn't want to use it all on a tow truck. But I didn't know anyone in town, either. And while my uncle meant well, he couldn't see where I was, and had no way of knowing what a bad idea it would have been for me to go walking or riding my bike on that dark, busy highway.
I said a little prayer, got back out of the car, stood in the light of my blinkers, and began waving my arms at cars as they drove by. One of the first people to pass saw me and stopped. Phew!
The white jeep backed slowly up on the shoulder until it was in front of my car. I waited anxiously to see who got out, hoping for a woman or priest or some other obviously non-rapey person. The door opened and a middle-aged Mexican man emerged in ripped jeans and Timberlands. I could see the glint of his gold tooth in my headlights.
Oh great. My stomach tightened. I chastised myself for possibly being racist and/or sexist, but at the same time remained smartly aware of my single-woman-on-the-side-of-the-road status. I almost blurted out, "Please don't rape me!"
But instead I said, "Hi. Thanks for stopping."
"Sure," he said and smiled, his gold tooth glinting. "What's wrong?" His accent was thick, and he dropped the "n" sound in "wrong."
"My car overheated. I was talking to my uncle, who - uh - lives nearby and knows exactly where I am, but can't come help me right now and, um, anyway, I just need water." I'm so bad at lying.
"Water?" he asked.
"Yes I just need to get a few more gallons of water to dump into my radiator tank to cool my engine enough to get home."
"Oh!" he said in sudden realization. He smiled that huge smile again. "I can take you, no pro'lem."
I hesitated and twisted my hands together.
He must have noticed my trepidation because he said, "Don't worry. My wife in the car. You no need worry."
"Oh!" I let out a huge sigh of relief. "Thank you for saying that! Sure I would be so grateful if you would take me. Let me just grab my bag."
I drove away with Hector and his wife, Alba (who spoke no English at all). We chatted as much as possible with the language barrier. Hector helped me carry the water, drove me all the way back to my car, and then filled the reservoirs for me. He warned me to stop in 15 minutes to put more water in, regardless of whether the temperature gauge had risen again or not.
I thanked Hector and Alba profusely, "Muchas, muchas, muchas gracias! May God bless you both and return this kindness to you!" Then I drove safely home, stopping once to refill the water as Hector had instructed.
This morning, my plan is to drive my host's truck (I have permission - duh) into town to buy antifreeze, bring it back here and fill up, and hope that does the trick. If it leaks out quickly or if the next time I drive my gauge spikes again, then I'll bite the bullet and take it to a garage.
But I am grateful that this happened. Really. I know now that my growing contentment is not just because everything is honky-dory in my life. That deep-rooted sense of peace did not leave me for a moment last night, and I am not the least bit worried about what will happen today.
Perhaps my car will be easily fixed by a $10 bottle of antifreeze. Perhaps the whole machine is done for, in which case maybe I'll sell it and use the money to go traipse around southeast Asia for awhile. These details really don't matter. Car, no car, whatever. I am alive. I am safe and warm. This car took me almost 9000 miles over the past two and a half months without any trouble at all. My life is full of love and adventure, and hey - I didn't get raped last night. Bonus.