Her phone’s google maps kept telling her to turn right, but Pippa ignored it. She knew Calvert Street was a major north-bound artery, and it was generally taking her in the right direction: home.
Pippa was home for Christmas break after her first semester of college, and was on the way back from visiting an elementary school friend she keeps in touch with. She was driving her mom’s old PT Cruiser.
The map app kept re-routing, yet it still insisted on a right turn. Pippa didn’t inherit her mother’s pigeon-like sense of direction, so she’s never totally sure if she’s taking the best route. So she finally relented, and turned right on 21st, a small side street.
Suddenly, the car came to a screeching halt. Pippa accelerated further, but the car barely stuttered forward, clearly expressing its displeasure. It wouldn’t budge from the travel lane.
Her heart beating faster now, Pippa had no idea what to do. In her phone app ‘Recents,’ she touched ‘Papa.’
Riding my bike, I felt my wrist vibrate. I had just recently bought a cheap-o Fitbit – the $60 Inspire that tracks steps and sleep, and pairs with my phone. I don’t always look at calls when I’m cycling, but today I did.
“Hey, what’s…going…on?” I was breathing harder than an Iditarod sled dog.
“Um, I have a problem with the car.” There was an edge to her voice.
“Are you OK? Where are you? What’s happening??”
“The car’s in the middle of the road and I can’t move it. I’m at…Calvert and 21st.”
“What?!?” That can’t be. My head swivels around, searching for a street sign. I’ve just crossed over 22nd Street, less than two blocks from her. I turn my bike around and within a minute I am next to her.
Sure enough, the car isn’t going anywhere. One front tire is pointed straight ahead and the other is askew, wanting to do its own thing.
I think about how we had just dropped off my in-laws that morning at the airport in that same car. A route that included high-speed highway driving.
I call Nora and Grey to come rescue us in the Scion. (Yes, this same Scion.)
I have a heavy-duty tow chain that we’ve used in the past to avoid a tow charge, but with a wheel issue, that won’t work.
I google “Baltimore towing” on my phone. At the top of results, there is an ad that trumpets “$80 for most tows.” I scroll past the ads, figuring that maybe I can get a better deal from one of the organic results.
I click on one that looks promising and click to call. I describe our dilemma and he puts me on hold. Then: “I talked to my boss, we can get you a special rate of $280.”
How desperate do I sound? “I can’t afford that,” I said and hung up.
Time to try the google ad route. I call “$80 for most tows” and he gives me a verbal estimate of $100. “How quick can you get here?” Suddenly, $100 seems very reasonable.
While I’ve been distracted lining up a tow, Nora and Grey arrive, and Grey somehow straightens the wayward wheel and pops the disconnected tie rod back into position. It’s a delicate reassembly, but it’s just sufficient to ever-so-slowly move the car out of the travel lane, and up against the curb.
Soon after, the tow guy arrives in a rollback, and while I shoehorn the bike into the back of the car, he expertly winches it onto the truck bed and chains it in place. He was nervous about the handicapped wheel, so he took some extra precautions to keep Grey’s fragile fix in place.
Nora, Pippa and Grey take off in the Scion, and I climb into the truck cab, and give directions to my fav shop: Mid-Atlantic.
The tow operator dumps the PT Cruiser at the shop, and talks to his boss on the phone. “He wants to talk to you,” he says to me.
The tow boss explains how the total bill will actually be $120. “Why is that?” I said, sounding skeptical. I reflexively object to the practice of hiking the bill between estimate and service delivery, when you are already fully committed.
The boss explains how, due to the busted wheel, there was more care required to load and unload the rollback truck. I had witnessed what he described and it made sense to me, so I okayed the increase.
I biked home and followed up with the shop the next day. They replaced the tie rods on both sides that day for a total of $357. That must be why I like Mid-Atlantic. 🙂
- The breakdown occurred soon after a highway trip to the airport
- Pippa had just turned off a major road
- I was wearing a new Fitbit that alerted me to Pippa’s call
- I was within a couple blocks
- The car was back on the road the following day
- The total hurt – towing and repair – was less than $500
Sometimes I don’t know whether something that comes into my life is a trial or a blessing – or maybe both – but on this day, there were too many happy coincidences and good fortune to ignore.
I was sure we were experiencing divine care, and I felt grateful.