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Small Town, Big Help
help: to be of use to, especially in time of need
Debra and I have been housesitting up on the rugged Northern California coast since the beginning of last week. It is very remote with only a general store, so those who live there periodically have to drive over the mountain to Eureka for supplies.
Near Eureka is a small rural town called Ferndale, which has a well-preserved four-block Victorian downtown with shops and restaurants.
We decided to drive to Ferndale to get some hand-forged iron hardware for our tiny house and have lunch, then spend the afternoon exploring Eureka, and drive home before dark.
We went to Ferndale, driving our 2005 hybrid Prius over the famous Ferndale Bridge, through the farmlands, and into town. We went to the blacksmith shop, bought some wall hooks, and stopped for lunch at one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.
After an excellent meal, we went to the car to continue our drive to Eureka for some shopping for the week.
But the car wouldn’t start. This was odd because it had been running perfectly. In fact we had been commenting to each other on how well the car had been running.
After trying to start the car three or four times, I noticed that the gas gauge warning light was flashing, indicating that it had no gas.
I looked around and saw a gas station about 100 feet away, so I went there to buy some gas. But it was Saturday, and they were closed. There was a woman waiting in a pick-up truck and I asked her if she knew where I could get some gas because my car was out of gas across the street.
She said, “Oh, this station is closed on the weekends, but I have a couple of gallons of gas for my lawnmower right here in the back of my truck.
I asked her what she wanted for it and she said, “Oh, nothing.”
We went back across the street and I poured two gallons of gas into the gas tank of the car and it still wouldn’t start. The gas gauge still registered as totally empty.
She then volunteered she had another gallon at home she could go get.
“OK,” I said, “If it’s not too much trouble."
She returned in about 15 minutes with another gallon of gas, which I put in the car. Still, the gas gauge registered empty and the car wouldn’t start.
So I went online with my cellphone to research “Prius runs out of gas how to start.” There was advice that sounded excellent about disconnecting the battery and allowing the computer to reset itself. So I did that. The car still wouldn’t start. Another person advised removing the fuse to the fuel line and then reinstalling it. I tried this. The car still wouldn’t start. Still registered as having no gas. I jumped up and down on the back of the car to slosh the gas around so the car would realize it had gas. The car still wouldn’t start.
At this point I called AAA to tow the car to a gas station where we could get it fixed. The AAA dispatcher told me I would not be able to ride in the cab of the tow truck with the driver because of Covid. OK. So the tow truck arrived, put in a couple of gallons more of gas, the gas gauge still registered as empty so we put the car on the back of the flatbed tow truck and Debra and I rode in our car on top of the tow truck to the closest open gas station, about 10 miles away.
On the way to the gas station, while riding in the car, I noticed that finally, the gas gauge showed I had some gas, so I was looking forward to starting the car at the gas station.
The tow truck driver dropped our car off right near the gas pump so we could get some gas and then he left. I tried to start the car again, but it still wouldn’t start. I went over to the pump to get more gas, but it was a “card-lock” gas station. You had to be a member and have a card in order to unlock the pump and buy gas. There was no employee at the gas station, there was no convenience store so there were no snacks, you had to slide your credit card to get into the bathroom but that only open until 7 pm.
Then it started to rain. And it was very cold.
* * *
At this point, things were going from bad to worse.
Now I had tried to start the car so many times in so many different ways that the computer in the car locked me out from starting the car. So now the problem wasn’t lack of gas, it was needing to clear the computer codes. I knew how to do this and even had a scanner at home that would clear it, but that was 100 miles away.
I called a local car parts store and they had one I could buy, but how was I going to get to the car parts store? It was now dark and raining. Debra had been being patient for five hours and she started crying. It all looked hopeless.
Debra said, “Let’s call an ambulance!” I seriously considered this and about a minute later, an ambulance pulled up to get gas. At the same time a sheriff also pulled up and Debra went to ask him for help. The sheriff said he would drive us except he was already on a call and zoomed away.
Finally, I just walked up to a guy in a van who had just filled his tank with gas and asked him if he knew how I could get to the auto parts store to buy a scanner. I told him what was going on with my car and he said, “Sure, I’ll take you there!”
Debra and I got in the van and we drove the seven miles to the auto parts store. I bought the scanner and Randy gave us a ride back to the car in the gas station. Debra and Randy chatted while I scanned the car to clear the codes but no trouble codes showed up on the scanner. So I couldn’t clear them.
Now it was about 7:30. It was clear we needed a place to stay that night. Randy told us he knew a bed and breakfast where we could stay, so he and I pushed the car into the handicapped parking space. Since I had handicapped license plates because of my broken back injury, I could park my handicapped car in the handicapped parking spot.
Randy drove us back into Ferndale. But the place he knew was closed for the evening. They recommended an inn downtown where we were able to get a room. Randy waited until we were sure a room was available and we were registered. I offered him money but he refused. He was happy to have our company for the evening and for the opportunity to be of help. During our time together I could visibly see him get happier and happier as we all solved the problem together.
As we were checking in we asked where we could get dinner. It was a Saturday night at 8:45. But Ferndale, though charming, is a tiny rural town and at that hour only one restaurant remained open and it was going to close at 9:00.
Debra pulled out her cell phone and called them immediately. She explained our predicament and they said, “Come on down!” Debra ordered an Italian dinner for us and we walked the four blocks to the other end of town. Our dinner was waiting, they plated it on a real plate and we got to sit down, out of the cold, in a real restaurant and eat real ravioli and garlic bread. When we thanked them for staying open they said they stay open until everyone who comes in has been fed. They don’t close by the clock, they close when their customers have finished eating.
We had a charming Victorian room for the night and could just rest, finally, and get warm and snuggle.
* * *
The next morning we ate our boxed breakfast that came with the room and set out to solve the challenges of the day.
Our first task was to find an open drug store. We had to find a drug store because both of us take 24-hour insulin that must be taken daily. If we don’t take it, we really can’t function and could end up in the hospital. Because we only take our insulin every 24 hours we don’t carry it with us if we are only going out for the day. We’re working on discontinuing our insulin but that is still in progress.
The car was still at the gas station, but the priority at the moment was to get the insulin. It was Sunday. The car wasn’t going anywhere on its own.
There is a drug store in Ferndale but it is closed on Sundays. So we needed to get to Eureka, about 20 miles away to get to the two chain drugstores where we have our two prescriptions. We take our insulin every morning at 8:00 because it only lasts 24 hours. It was now 10:00 so we were now two hours overdue and the clock was ticking.
We asked at the inn about transportation to Eureka but there was no bus on the weekend and no taxis or Uber at all. The manager said the waitress could drive us but we had to wait for her to finish her shift at 10:30 and he could “work out something” for us.
We said OK and walked out of the hotel dining room on toward the street. At that very moment, a white car pulled up and parked right in front of us. An older couple got out and the woman said to us in a friendly way, “Oh how was your stay? We stayed here last night for our anniversary.”
Responding to this, Debra said, “Oh, we slept very well, we stayed here because our car broke down. And we are now wondering how to get to Eureka to a drug store to get our insulin.”
The husband immediately said, “We are going to Eureka in just a few minutes, we will drive you.” And they happily drove us right to the drug store.
* * *
But Debra’s pharmacy didn’t have the insulin she needed and they could only give her the specific insulin on her prescription. It was now almost 11:00 and Debra was starting to fade.
We decided to go to my pharmacy, which was about two miles away on the same street.
We called for a taxi but it wouldn’t arrive for more than 45 minutes, maybe longer.
So we set out on foot. It wasn’t raining but there was a bit of a drizzle. We were wearing heavy sweaters so we started walking.
The first few blocks were flat, but then it was uphill. Debra was walking slower and slower. There were no people around that we could ask for help. Debra was saying, “Please somebody show up. Please somebody show up to help us,” over and over as we walked.
We kept walking. Within minutes we saw a corner liquor store up ahead. And just as we were approaching a jeep came around the corner and a man jumped out, leaving the engine running on the jeep. We walked across the street and Debra fell against the street signal pole and put her arms around it to hold her body up.
“I can’t walk any more,” she said. “We need some help. We need some help.” Her voice was getting softer and softer and more and more urgent.
The man with the jeep came out of the store with three cans of beer in his hand. I called to him, “Could you give us a ride for a mile to the pharmacy up the street? My wife needs insulin and she can’t walk anymore.”
“In my jeep!?!?! You want a ride in my jeep?!??!!"
“Yes!” I said. We need to get to the pharmacy. It’s an emergency.”
He said OK and we all went to the jeep. I climbed up the rear tire to get into the back seat. The Jeep was high off the ground and Debra couldn't pull her body into the front seat. So the driver had to pull her into the jeep from the driver’s side.
He raced down the street to the pharmacy. As he was driving he said he had no problem at all giving us a ride and was happy he could help.
We got to the pharmacy and I was able to get my insulin prescription filled. Since we both take the same insulin, I gave Debra her shot as well and she quickly revived.
* * *
So now we needed to fix the car. It was still about 20 miles away at the gas station in the handicapped parking spot.
It was clear now that we needed to get the car from Ferndale Bridge to the dealer in Eureka and leave it overnight because they would not be able to even look at it until Monday morning.
Now we needed a place to spend the night and also get the car towed.
After many calls between myself, AAA, and the towing company we finally arranged for an "unattended tow” where they would pick up the car and deliver it without us being there with the car. But that fell through as well. How was I going to get to the car 20 miles away?
We decided to first get a hotel room and then figure out how to move the car. Debra found the closest hotel to the car dealer and then the question was how do we get there with no bus service on Sunday and an unknown wait time from the one cab company that serves the entire city.
At this point we were at the front of the supermarket where my pharmacy is, taking turns sitting on the handicapped electric cart. This was fine until a handicapped person walked up with crutches and needed the cart. Immediately we turned over the cart to him and were just left standing. Meanwhile, Debra was trying to make a hotel reservation online but the app wasn’t working.
Soon the handicapped man came back with the cart. He saw we were just waiting there and asked us if we needed help. We told him our story and he said, “I will drive you to the hotel.”
Once we got in his SUV he said, “Let me call my wife and tell her I’m going to be late.” He hit the speakerphone and told her he was helping stranded travelers. She sounds very nice on the phone. “Your wife sounds very sweet,” Debra said, which produced a big smile from our driver.
As we approached the hotel he pointed out different restaurants and told us which were the best and which to avoid. Since we didn’t have a reservation, he waited to make sure we got a room before driving away.
* * *
Secure, warm, and dry in the hotel room, it was now time to get the car towed from the gas station to the dealer. For the past hour, there had been multiple calls between myself, AAA, and the towing company. Finally, the towing company had said, “Let me know when you can get there and call me and I will come.”
I realized that Debra really didn’t need to come to tow the car, so I suggested she could stay in the nice warm hotel room and rest or watch TV or lie in the bathtub or do whatever she wanted to do. I promised we would order dinner in when I returned.
I called the lone taxi company and waited 45 minutes for them to arrive. They drove me to the car, I called for the tow, the tow truck came and loaded the car on the truck and I rode with the driver in the cab with my covid mask on. After we dropped the car at the dealer, the tow truck driver dropped me at the hotel because he was going that way.
Finally, the car was at the dealer, so I could relax and get dinner delivered and watch movies on TV with Debra.
* * *
The next morning at about 8:00 I called the dealer to authorize them to fix the car. They said they would have an answer by 1:00 about what was wrong and what would be needed to repair it.
That done, I started to look for our insulin so we could take it on time. And then I remembered that I had left it in the car.
So Debra called the cab and we waited 45 minutes for it to arrive and went down to the dealer. They had a shuttle that would take us anywhere we wanted to go nearby and come pick us up while we were waiting for our car. So we asked for a breakfast recommendation and they took us to a great place where locals eat and we had an outstanding homestyle breakfast. Then we walked to a nearby historic section that had blocks of Victorian buildings with little shops. Most of the shops were closed, of course, because it was Monday. But was nice to walk. We split a sandwich for lunch while we waited for the shuttle to come get us.
When we got back to the dealer at about 1:30, they said our car hadn’t even been looked at yet. By this time, Debra had been more than patient. She had already lost two days of writing and didn’t want to stay over another night and lose another day.
I didn’t know what to do to speed this up.
I decided to just go for a walk and cool down a bit.
Meanwhile, Debra remembered she had many unread books in her Kindle account in her cellphone and began to happily read a book she had been wanting to read.
My back was hurting, so I went and laid down in the car and texted the service technician that I was in pain because I was healing from a broken back and I was upset that the car wasn’t diagnosed on the timetable as promised.
Suddenly everything went into motion to diagnose and fix my car. In less than an hour, it was all done.
The problem was a little 25-cent fuse for the brake system. That’s it. They replaced the fuse and the car ran fine.
Big sigh that it wasn’t a $2500 transmission or a $2500 computer.
We happily drove home, had a nice dinner, and fell right to sleep.
We were astonished and grateful that so many people appeared and stepped up to help—immediately, graciously and with 100% willingness. Where public services failed, citizens stepped in. It didn’t matter who we were or where we were from, all that mattered was we needed help and help was there.
We kept presenting opportunities for people to help us, and they did. Nobody asked for money and we stopped offering after the first few refused. They were happy to help. They enjoyed helping us.
We got to see the good in people over and over and over again.
A Comment from Debra About Help
After having this experience of abundant help—of people not only willing to help but being happy to help when they knew help was need—I began to see other examples in my life of people helping others get what they needed without going through the usual channels of making a purchase, hiring a professional, or using governments services.
As I write this, Larry and I are housesitting for two weeks in a very small town of only 600 residents, tucked away in a very remote corner of Northern California. It’s almost an hour’s drive in from the nearest town, on a very curvy road over a mountain. And so a lot of community self-reliance is necessary.
Because it looks like we will be able to come here again and again I joined the local email message board. And after last weekend I noticed that there are a lot of requests for rides. Some ask if there is anyone going that way, others are willing to pay a neighbor to be a taxi, with lunch included.
Where we live, we have a social media service called [Nextdoor.com]=https://nextdoor.com/ where neighbors can communicate about what they need and want and what they have to offer.
Our industrial world is oriented toward everyone paying for everything, but before industrialization humans survived by helping each other. Each one of us survives by helping others survive and by helping Nature survive.
I read something once that said help pervades all Life. Every part of Life helps other parts of life survive. Even the rain exists to help the plants grow and provide water for animals to drink.
Help is essential to Life.
Another Comment from Debra about Competence
The word competence suggests measuring up to all requirements without question. And both Larry and I learned just how competent we can be by successfully completing this challenge of getting our car repaired.
We do a pretty good job at proving for our needs in our daily life so we actually had never experienced this degree of having to make things happen with literally nothing. We had left on this trip expecting to be home that night so we had nothing with us—no prescription drugs, no vitamins, no food, no change of clothes…nothing but our credit cards.
We had to be resourceful and find everything from rides to food to prescriptions. We had to walk long distances in the cold weather and rain. We had to find and obtain everything we needed from morning until night.
That we were able to do this and measure up to all requirements without question—every single one—showed us something about what we are capable of, above and beyond what we thought. And what our bodies are capable of, much more than we thought.
Larry showed so much more competence than he generally exhibits that by the end of the weekend I had to give him the title “Larry the Magnificent” because he showed so much courage and persistence and ability to push through to the end to get our car across distance and time to the dealer and get it repaired.
Even though it was a difficult three days, we came through it for the better. And now we know we can do much more.