So no shit there I was. Downtown Orlando, driving my friend S to an appointment. In the back of the car, I had my infant daughter. What I did not have, notably, was my cell phone. Nor any money worth speaking of.
We stopped at a stop light, like ya do. When the light turned green, I stepped on the gas pedal.
And nothing happened.
So I tried to restart the car.
And nothing continued to happen.
So about this time, S jumps out of the car and begins pushing it into a nearby parking lot. Out of nowhere, a guy shows up – in the middle of heavy downtown traffic! – and begins pushing with him. Once there, S has to take off – he has to get to this appt, and it’s only a few blocks away by this point. Su and I head inside to the pet store, hoping to gain use of a pity-phone. (At this point it begins to dawn on me that I know tons and tons of people who can help me out – and their numbers are all in my cell phone, which is charging merrily away back at the house.)
Fast-forward an hour. I have secured a tow truck from my insurance company and my father is on his way to give S and Su a ride back to my house (tow trucks being notoriously lacking in places to secure a baby seat.) I don’t like calling Dad, since he lives in another city, but as his is one of two numbers I actually know by heart, I don’t have a lot of choice. (For the record, the other number is Spouse-Man’s. As was later relayed to me, Spouse-Man was taking a nap, but left his phone on just in case I had to call him. Imagine his frustration at receiving 5 calls from an unknown pet store number! “Shut up,” he growled at the phone, “you’re only on in the first place in case my wife calls!”)
So. Dad gets there. The tow truck gets there. Dad picks up S, packs Su into his car, and we’re waiting to see if a jump will get me home or if it’ll have to be towed. And – wonder of wonders – the jump works! Yaaay! So the tow truck driver goes on his merry way and we head off home.
I stop at a stop light to turn onto the street that will take us home. When the light changes, I push the gas pedal.
And nothing happens.
Again with the pushing. At this point I find jumper cables and Dad jumps the car. We limp a little further home before it dies yet again, this time in front of the Orlando Science Center. A trio of picturesque guys doing – freerunning? breakdancing? something physical and attractive – in the park run over to help S push the car to a safe place where it can be jumped again. Finally, finally, we get home. Once there, I call the insurance company back, let them know what’s happened, and get them to send the tow truck out again. They take it to the nearest mechanic, getting there after they’ve closed for the night.
This was Thursday.
Friday, I spent the day talking to the mechanic. Finally, by the very end of they day, they call me back. The car is fine – the battery was simply completely drained. And since it’s a newer car, with a computer system, it does need a certain amount of battery power just to keep it running. They put in a new battery, no fuss no muss, I could go get it. My ex-roommate’s ex-girlfriend (it’s… complicated) gave me a ride, and I brought it home. Yay!
Then this morning, I went to the car to go to Spouse-Man’s restaurant for breakfast. Went to start the car.
And nothing goddamn happened!!!
…called the mechanic again, while walking to the damn restaurant. They sent guys to the restaurant, to pick up my keys, then to the house to jump the car and bring it back to the shop. Got it back this afternoon – apparently although the alternator was putting out the right amount of charge, the diodes inside were busted, which meant for all the charge it’s giving the battery, it’s also draining the battery! So yeah… also needed a new alternator.
And… this is an experience that I kinda feel like I ought to be pissing and moaning about, but… the emotion I’m getting most strongly? Gratitude. I kinda feel like I want to thank a whole lot of people.
I want to thank S for never once making me feel bad for inconveniencing him – even though I totally did. I know he didn’t want to be doing physical labor under the hot Florida sun in a dress shirt and slacks. I know he could have been kept from this appointment if it hadn’t happened to break down so close. I know he wasn’t happy about being essentially stranded, no way to contact me or anyone, no way of knowing if someone was coming to get him or if he was SOL. But instead of getting upset at being put in a bad situation – which I would totally have understood if he had, cuz yeah – he treated it as a “we’re in this together, let’s just focus on getting it solved.” I appreciated that.
I want to thank the guy in traffic and the freerunners in the park for pitching in unasked. No one had to explain the situation or flag them down or convince th to help – they just saw a guy pushing a car out of the road, and without even asking questions ran over and lent their strength to the effort. It was a minor thing – a minute or two out of their day – but it took some of the strain off of S’s back and shoulders, lessened the amount of time people behind us in traffic were inconvenienced, and generally reinforced the message that the world, all in all, is still more benevolent than otherwise. That’s a lot of positive effect.
I want to thank the cashiers and manager at PetSmart who not only let me use a phone, but helped me figure out how to give the best directions to the place, helped entertain Su while I was busy on the phone, and generally made me feel like I wasn’t an imposition at all, but someone they genuinely wanted to help. I took up their phone and a cash register area for the better part of an hour, but no one acted impatient or asked if I was leaving yet – just expressed concern and made sure I would be ok.
I want to thank my dad for driving down to Orlando on a moment’s notice, even though it’s very much out of his way and even though he had a class to prepare for that night. I honestly do not know what I would have done without him being there; every alternate “what if?” scenario I can think of ends with me blocking traffic during rush hour, dependent on the kindness of strangers to even get out of the road, with an overheating baby in the back seat whom I still couldn’t get home even if the tow truck came right back out.
I want to thank the folks over at Geico. Seriously, whenever I’m asked to give an example of customer service done right, I talk about the times I’ve called in to Geico. Their phone menu is easy to navigate; if I DO make a mistake I get transferred, cheerfully and politely, to the right department, everyone is always helpful and patient and informative and honestly trying to make my day better, not worse. You’d think that would be the standard for customer service, but so often it’s not – Geico gets it right, and I really appreciated it.
I want to thank the guys over at Advanced Automotive Works. They really did impress me. First of all, they explained what was happening and why, clearly and patiently, neither condescending nor talking over my head. There’s a lot of mechanics that would not do that, especially as I’m a woman who obviously knows nothing about cars. On that same note, while they did let me know what else needed to be worked on in the car, as well as how vital each issue was, there was no attempt to pressure me into getting it done or to push services on me that I didn’t want or need. And when I called them this morning, he reacted immediately, sending his own folks out to get the car, even detouring out of the way to meet me at the restaurant instead of making me meet them at the house. They stayed late – they usually close at two, but they said they’d stay as late as they needed to to get the car fixed and back to me. On top of that, they piled two discounts on top of each other to kep me from having to pay too much.
And finally I want to thank Spouse-Man, who took one look at me and S, saw that we were exhausted, and immediately took over baby- and dinner-related chores so that I could just collapse into a chair and slip into semi-consciousness.
…Geez, I’m starting to sound like I just won an Academy Award. And… the argument could be made that nobody really went above and beyond here. (Well, maybe my dad.) Companies should treat their customers professionally and courteously. People should pitch in when they see someone in trouble, especially when it’s not going to take up more than a minute or two of their time. We should be able to expect that family and friends will be supportive when things go wrong that are beyond anyone’s control.
I guess why I’m so surprised, so gratified, is that we don’t expect it. Whether through experience or just being told, we’ve internalized this idea that the world is a harsh place, where people are only out for themselves. That we should just expect to find mean-spiritedness, pettiness, bureaucratic obstruction, stupidity, apathy, and just sheer bloody-mindedness at every turn. Well… I didn’t. I didn’t find heroes; I didn’t have to. Just a whole bunch of people being quietly competent, being civilized, being kind. For one weekend, the world worked the way it should work, and it turned what could have been a nightmare into something that was, not fun, but not really terrible either.
It’s a good thing to remember. Making the world nicer for everyone doesn’t always take huge heroic efforts; sometimes it’s just small moments of being a decent human being that make all the difference.