Road Angels

Road Angels

From Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrating People Who Make a Difference

Road Angels

When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot, and hang on.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Thump! Thump! Thump! The sound I heard from the rear was not encouraging. At first, I thought it came from the rubber risers embedded in the center stripes. I ignored the drumming noise, but it got louder and nearer. As a precaution, I pulled onto the shoulder of the road. I got out and inspected the car. Yep, a flat tire. Grrrr. Sometimes life seems to be one flat tire after another. All I wanted to do was get home—from Phoenix, Arizona, to Pahrump, Nevada. Should be simple, right? What a terrible way to spoil a beautiful Fourth of July.

Simple. Only a flat tire. Unfortunately, I am mechanically challenged. When I was in high school, I took a Navy aptitude test, scoring thirty-five percent on the mechanical portion. Not a good sign. I had never changed a tire on my 2000 Echo and didn’t know whether I had all the tools—any tools—in the trunk.

Although the car was on the shoulder, the Echo was still close to traffic. As cars whipped by, the little Toyota trembled. Could such vibrations whip the car from its jack stand as I worked? Another accident waiting to happen. I paced around the car, contemplating my options. I could call AAA, but it was Sunday, a holiday weekend, and the road service response time would be slow.

I could call my brother Tom at his auto shop, but that would interrupt his day. I could replace the tire myself, and after three hours, if I hadn’t been crushed by a cruising car, and if I hadn’t gotten the spare on, I could martyr out and call AAA. But at least, I had to try.

I pulled the tools from the trunk and had started to pry off the plastic cover that shielded the lug nuts when a black semi pulled up behind me. I saw Arkansas plates. Two guys jumped out wearing faded, wrinkled jeans and short-sleeve shirts. One guy had a stubble, the other a beard. The one with the beard had tattoos, and frankly, people with tattoos make me nervous. Of the two things I couldn’t stand—snakes and tattoos—I only had to worry about one of them, and that wasn’t bad.

The tattooed guy spoke first. “Need help?”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“Name’s Gene. He’s Jerry. We’ll get this fixed in no time.” Without a word, the two men had the spare on in five minutes. Gene loosened the lugs; Jerry got out the spare and the jack. Gene jacked up the car; Jerry pulled off the flat and popped on the donut. Gene replaced the lugs and lowered the car. Not even the Arizona heat and the waves of traffic could phase these guys. The Good Samaritans worked so fast you’d think it was something they did regularly to prepare for Olympic competition. “Representing the United States, Gene and Jerry in the lug nut event.”

“Where ya headed?” asked Jerry.

“Las Vegas,” I said. Most people didn’t know where Pahrump was.

“Us, too. There’s a used tire place just up the road. We’ll follow you there.”

“Great,” I replied. Now I had “road angels” to protect me.

“Had some trouble ourselves,” Gene volunteered. “Comin’ into Texas, we lost an axle, and the friggin’ rig flipped over. Goin’ out of Texas, we had a blowout. Lost two days.”

“Best get movin’. We’re burnin’ daylight,” reminded Jerry.

We got into our vehicles.

Because the donut was smaller than the regular tire, the Echo tilted. I was nervous about how well the car would ride, so I drove under the speed limit. Looking into the rearview mirror, I saw the blessed black rig, chugging at a respectful distance. Comforted by their presence, I plugged on, hoping to see the tire shop very soon. One mile. Two miles. Three miles. And more. The Echo was steady. The donut was holding.

The tire shop was invisible; a figment of an angel’s imagination?

Panicky, I kept looking at the odometer. I was approaching the point of no return. It was just as far to drive back to Sun City as it was to continue driving to Wickenburg. Wickenburg would have a retail tire store, and at least Wickenburg was in the direction of home. The flat tire reminded me how much I hated traveling. I wanted to spend the Fourth of July in front of my television, not on the side of U.S. 60.

Hastily, I darted into a rest area to mull this over. When I got out of the car to stretch, I noticed the semi had pulled off, too, about a hundred yards behind me. That black beast stared at me, its diesel heart thumping, waiting for me to move. One of the men slid out the passenger door. When I ducked into my car, he jumped into the truck. It was north or nothing, and the big rig trotted behind.

North I plodded, mile marker by mile marker. I counted familiar landmarks, each friendly sight inching me closer to Wickenburg. Forty miles. The turnoff for Interstate 17 to Flagstaff. Twenty-five miles. A billboard for AmericInn Wickenburg. Ten miles. A sign for the “14th Annual Fiesta Septiembre.” A marker over the Hassayamper River, a dry riverbed. “McDonald’s—five miles ahead.” One mile. The speed limit slowed and the divided highway ended.

The semi with my road angels kept pace, yet kept its distance, as though we were merely pilgrims who happened to venture on the same path on the same day. The road curved to the right and uphill. Around a bend, I saw the sign for Big O Tire, and I immediately bolted into its parking lot. Ah, sanctuary. I knew now that I would safely make it home.

As I made my turn, the semi picked up speed as if on another scent. The driver honked twice as the rig sped by. “Glad you made it. See you again sometime,” the blasts seemed to say.

If you were to ask me if Jerry and Gene made up their lost time, I’d say probably not. Down the road, somewhere in the Nevada desert, there’d be a black rig parked on the side of the road helping some stranded motorist. From the experience, I guess I learned two things: there but for the grace of God and the kindness of strangers go I, and sometimes angels wear tattoos.

Paul J. DiLella

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