Monday, January 31, 2011

The Etiquette of Roadside Assistance

A couple of weeks ago I was driving along I-95 north through Maine on my way back to Saint Andrews. I was cheerily zipping along during mid morning maintaining my cruising speed of just a hair over the speed limit, passing slower cars and trucks and an old red van. Well, the old red van passed me a short time later with a sign in the window which read "FLAT TIRE". Oblivious to the fact that this was actually happening to me, I pointed to myself, and the passenger holding the sign nodded affirmatively. It was then that I could feel some unsteadiness to the front end of the 2-ton 1995 Oldsmobile Cruiser station wagon. Little had a realized that the old red van contained two of my guardian angels!

Luckily for me, there was an exit in 1 mile. It happened to be for the town of Waterville and within a few yards of the ramp there was an Irving gas station. I knew I would be okay. (For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a liability with a crowbar and tire jack!) Had I been slightly more astute, I would have noticed a GM dealer across the street. But I didn't. When I had parked at the gas station I realized just how lucky I was. The tire was almost shredded, but the wheel was thankfully unaffected.

"Well, we don't change tires here", was the first somewhat unsettling news I received from an otherwise charming attendant. She very kindly assisted me in contacting AAA. I then realized that there was nothing I could do about this interruption of my travel plans and contented myself with watching the frozen customers come and go and wait for the tow truck to arrive, sipping on the 99 cent Monday coffee special.

The day just happened to also be my birthday, my 60th in fact. You can imagine my surprise when a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You" erupted from behind the counter! Wouldn't you know that it was the birthday of an assistant manager there. I couldn't resist saying something, and as a result two total strangers celebrated their birthdays together with a beautiful homemade cake!

Thank heavens that when the tow truck driver arrived he was of a mind to put on the silly donut spare tire rather than tow the car. Apparently one doesn't tow a car with a flat tire - who knew? Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised to hear how I always marvel at the ease with which a tire is changed, except by me. This man moved like a machine, no wasted steps, no wasted time. I was delighted. And with a lovely piece of cake and a donut for a tire I journeyed across the street to the GM dealer. Since they no longer manufacture Oldsmobiles, that name missing from the sign gave me one quick moment of angst; but I thought, "we're only talking tires here".

The dealership took less than an hour to replace my tire - a white wall no less. This afforded me time to catch up on emails and broadcast to my friends about my flat tire experience and how well it was going. Ninety-three dollars later I was on the road back to Saint Andrews.

As someone who spends as much time as possible looking on the bright side of things, I began replaying the movie in my mind of the past 2 1/2 hours discovering the positive affects of what just happened.

First of all, in the midst of a situation that I had no control over, I decided to cut myself some slack. I had no time constraints so why fret about it? I chose to sit back and just see what would happen. I was happily surprised. Things turned out better than I could have imagined let alone orchestrated. Secondly, I made a point of smiling at everyone even when I was feeling a bit stranded and needy. This made me feel better about the whole situation and allowed me to have faith in those who were rescuing me. Finally, I actually allowed myself to enjoy this seeming inconvenience by sharing in a birthday celebration, marveling at the skills of the tow truck driver, and being ever grateful that this whole incident occurred where it did, when it did, and with whom I had the good fortune to share it.

It reminded me of how much simpler life's most challenging moments can be if we just allow them to unfold. Last week I suggested that civility needs to begin at home. Today I am suggesting that good etiquette and kindness begins with you.