Life will always test you. That’s what Tayari kwa Salaam frequently says. And from time to time, we are gifted with experiences that reveal the multi-faceted truth of that statement.
Yesterday started pretty good. I had it mentally mapped out. Went to the bank. Picked up a cashier’s check, planning to pay for a whole year of rent at my new digs at Ashe Cultural Center on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. The idea was to be able to take my time unpacking 37+ boxes, getting my studio apartment into shape. And to be in a position not to have to be bothered with any major bills. My bank account would be approaching just above zero but I would be in a position to focus on the move and focus on my writing.
Was on my way to a second bank to collect my social security check. Felt really good. Thought I had everything under control. Had earlier received the message that dealing with the IRS was going well. Decided to get an oil change at the “Take 5 Oil Change” establishment that I had to pass in order to get to the bank.
There were only two or three vehicles in front of me. I was in the right hand of the two lanes and everything was running smoothly. In addition to the oil change, got an air filter for the engine and made a $3 donation to a children’s hospital campaign. The bill is $2.89-cents shy of a hundred dollars.
That’s when everything went south.
My battered, old green truck just plain konked out right after I paid the bill and was supposed to pull out. I tried starting up a couple of times. Nada. The sick sound of a failing engine went completely silent. Not even a click.
The guy in charge of my servicing, volunteered to push me off to the side. Asked did I have jumper cables. I did. We tried but no dice. He said “hold on” let me try my co-worker’s cables. She has heavy-duty jumpers. That didn’t get it either.
By now Mr. Despair Bear is taking a deep bite out of my butt. Which is when I discover my phone isn’t working. I don’t now why. I used it this morning plus I have an automatic deduction plan. So much for calling someone for assistance. On to plan B, getting a battery at Firestone.
Fortunately, the Firestone repair shop is only about two blocks away. That was an establishment I had gone to before on the West Bank of New Orleans near where I previously lived.
I’m 74-years-old and have a generally sedentary life style. I don’t look forward to traipsing down General DeGaulle highway. Did I mention it’s August in the Crescent City? Real hot in the summer time. But what choice do I have? So I hike on down the road. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get a battery there, and figure out the rest. So much for the afternoon appointments I had. The focus was on getting my vehicle back to Ashe on the East Bank.
Firestone, here I come. When I get there, I find out they didn’t have a battery in stock. Any old battery won’t work. Different equipment for different vehicles.
One of their stores over on the East Bank had the type of battery I needed but it wasn’t located near by. At that point I’m fighting with myself to stay calm and figure out this little trouble. The guy behind the desk says he can get the battery delivered. I’m doing mental gymnastics. How long will that take? Should I just request to use their phone and call someone? No, wait. I don’t want to leave my truck at the oil change place. I’ve got Triple-A, but that means another bill to pay.
When I inquire how long will it take to get the battery, the clerk responds an hour-and-a-half, maybe two hours. I order it. Sit down inside the air conditioned show-room/office. The plan–such as it is at that point–is just get the battery and then figure out the next move.
There is idle chatter with a customer who is also waiting for his vehicle to be serviced. The customer knows the Firestone manager. They are talking about people they know in common and swapping stories about fishing in the gulf and watering spots near New Orleans. The manager is someone who has serviced me before.
When one of them goes in to talking about how our country is in bad shape; people don’t want to work, people don’t help each other anymore, yada, yada, I just stay silent. They all sound like Trump voters. I’m the only Black person around, plus I’m wearing a National Black Arts Festival t-shirt.
I ask the clerk whether he thinks the battery will arrive before 5:30. He says it shouldn’t take that long. At this point I have decided to tough it out, step by step. Thankfully, I have money in the bank and a new plastic card to replace the old one when I moved. (Which is another story entirely. Moving was not a simple endeavor, especially since I was selling the house and dealing with succession details.)
I pay the $153.22 Firestone bill and hunker down for what I hope will be a not-too-long wait.
It’s well before 5pm. I make the mistake of thinking maybe I’ll shortly get out of this fix. Long story short, the battery arrives right after 4pm. Now the next step: I don’t want to/probably am physically incapable of hand carrying the heavy battery down to where my vehicle is. I explain my situation and the clerk volunteers to drive me and my new battery down the road.
Ok, this should be where the story ends. But. . .
When I get to the oil change place, they are about to close. Due to covid, their hours have changed and they now close at 4:30pm. The guy who assisted me earlier comes over and says he will help me. Turns out he is the manager. I pop the hood and the cables won’t come off easily. He says he needs to finish up the cars in line and then he will come back and help me. Earlier I had given him $5. I don’t have much cash on me; you know, increasingly plastic is the order of the day. I wait patiently.
Before long, he comes back and after trying to get the cable off, decides he needs to get more tools than a simple wrench, plus he also needs some gloves because this one is going to take a bit of fiddling with.
This time when he comes back we talk while he works on changing the battery. I give him $10 more. It takes a bit of work, one of the old terminals had corroded and semi-sealed to the battery post. After about 15-minutes, he gets the job done.
We had been conversing amicably while he worked. He gives me the line about how it ain’t fair for the government to pay people for not working. Says he has a friend who makes more by staying home than going to work. It ain’t right.
I respond that government subsidies won’t last long and that the real problem is that a lot of the jobs don’t really pay much money which is why an unemployment check is more than a job pay check. Would he want one of those low-paying jobs? He says that he had not thought about it that way.
Finally the battery is changed. The vehicle starts up. Once again I thank my volunteer mechanic. And drive back across the river. When I get to the apartment it’s almost 6pm. I figure out the phone disconnect. The auto-payment was on the old card and co-incidentally expired when I needed it most. Only took a minute or so online to get the phone turned back on.
I make calls. Reschedule appointments I have missed and then I climbed into bed. I had had enough drama for one day.
Two-something in the morning I woke up and decided to write this little essay about my ordeal. We all are facing trying times. But, don’t give up. Push on through. Every situation can be a set-back or a lesson. Additionally, from time to time, we all need a helping hand. Help someone if you can, regardless of who they are.
I plan to return to the scene of the disaster and give the guy who helped me a $25 gift card. Why? Because game recognize game. Financially, I am in a position right now where I can respond in the American way: i.e. with dinero.
We have to do far more than just wish for a better world. Reaching out to others is important. Particularly those who help us. And especially so when they are not like us, don’t necessarily share out views and values.
We are all, potentially and sometimes even actually, closer than our political beliefs. The song is right: reach out and touch someone. Make this world a better world. In ways both big and small, we can all help make this world a better world.