Country Road

The official start of summer was just around the corner. It was May of 1997, and I was heading home to California from Michigan after a long spring semester.

The drive normally took me four days if I didn’t drive at breakneck speed, but then again, I was motoring along in a Plymouth Colt at the time…so how much speed would I really ever achieve? If I put in 15-hour days, I could make it home in three, but my late departure from campus on a Friday afternoon had shot down any of my usual roadtrip expectations. It was time to go with the flow.

Long about Fort Wayne, Indiana, I heard something snap under my hood, flutter around bit and then go quiet. My speed wasn’t affected and, save for the snapping sound, my car sounded OK. But 6 o’clock was 15 minutes away and I didn’t want to risk not having it looked at. I noticed a sign for an auto mall just ahead, so I pulled off the highway and stopped into the nearest dealership, praying they were still open. I entered a sea of BMWs. My Colt seemed beyond out of place.

The guys in the service bay were milling about, chatting with the salesmen and probably counting down the minutes until they could crack open a cold one. I explained my situation (read: solo girl driving home to California from Michigan, mysterious under-hood noises, assistance would be lovely) and they obliged. In my car went while I shuffled around the lot for a while to kill some time. There was still some daylight left when one of the sales guys walked over to me.

“It’s a nice car, isn’t it?” he asked. I was checking out a Z3 that must’ve been in its first or second model year.

“We can go for a ride while you wait, if you’d like,” he offered. I was instantly suspicious of his intentions but, after closer inspection, I realized he only had one arm. That, combined with the fact that it was still light outside, prompted me to accept his invitation.

“Why not?” I said. Off we drove.

It was one of the best drives I’d ever been on. He found a few winding country roads, effortlessly steering and shifting as though his other arm was there — but just invisible. I think I giggled the whole time. I tend to do that at high speeds.

After a good forty minutes, we headed back to the dealership. The sun was creeping lower, and a warm haze was settling across a massive, golden field. Barns were back-lit. Small bugs began to emerge for their evening festivities; they stayed close to the ground, creating airborne sparkles whenever our headlights illuminated them.

Back at the dealership, the news was good: it was only an A/C belt, but something that would’ve been necessary once I reached New Mexico, Arizona or the California desert. The service department should’ve closed at least an hour earlier, but nobody seemed to mind sticking around to help. To this day, it’s one of my warmest, fondest memories from my time in the Midwest, and I’ll forever be grateful for their kindness and assistance in getting me on my way.

I think I only made it to Terre Haute that night, but my heart was still back on those county roads and wishing it could wander through those fields. For that brief diversion from my focus on the highway and the universe’s reminder to relax and find the good in a potentially frustrating situation — to find the county road amidst the chaos — I am thankful.

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