Thursday, January 07, 2010

Minnesota Nice

Picture this; It's a cold, clear December night. You just finished celebrating Christmas with your family and you and your spouse are driving home on a quiet two lane road in the Minnesota countryside. It's the middle of the night, the stars are shining, and there is no traffic to speak of. The radio is off, the two of you are exhausted from all the traveling over the holiday so nothing is being said. You look down at the outside temperature gauge and it reads -20F. All you can think about is getting home and into a warm bed. Then, without warning, the silence is interrupted by a loud pop. You feel something hit the bottom of the car by your feet. Your serene drive home just took an unforeseen twist. You think to yourself, "Maybe it was just a chunk of ice falling out of the wheel well." Not more than a couple seconds later you here a "thump, thump, thump" sound as the steering becomes increasingly more difficult to control. Your spouse asks the obvious question; "Do we have a flat?"

That was just the situation my wife and I found ourselves in this Christmas. After we pulled over I got out to inspect the damage and found the front left tire to be completely flat. I walked around to the other side of the car to check the remaining tires and noticed that we had not one flat tire, but two! Just to be sure I wasn't seeing things I pulled out the tire pressure gauge and checked both of the flat tires, and one of the good tires just to make sure the gauge worked.

Once I got back inside my wife asked me what we were going to do. I told her we would call AAA and have a tow truck come out. Even if we had only one flat tire, the middle of the night in sub-zero temperatures on the side of a highway wasn't the time to learn how to change a flat. I called AAA - hoping that I had remembered to renew my membership - and told them where we were. The dispatcher told me it would be 20-30 minutes. After I hung up the phone with AAA, and my mom who was going to stay up until we figured out where we would bring the car, Erin told me she had to use the restroom. A good reminder that even adults should go potty before they leave the house.

As we sat there, looking at the stars, the hazard lights providing an annoying strobe effect, I wondered how long it would be before someone would stop to check on us. I was pleasantly surprised when, not more than a few minutes after I got off the phone with AAA, did an elderly couple pull along the side of our car to ask if we needed any help. I told them about our flat tires and that the car was running - and keeping us warm - just fine so we should be okay. A few minutes later another person stopped to see if we needed any help. And shortly after that, another person stopped. Then a police officer stopped to check on us - and to make sure I wasn't a felon who's luck had just run out.

Considering what little traffic there was, I was amazed at how many people stopped. It may have been a different story had it been the middle of summer, but there was a lot of "Minnesota Niceness" happening. There was some "Wisconsin Nice" too as I remember one of the trucks had Wisconsin license plates.

After sitting on the side of the road for about an hour, the tow truck finally showed up. I felt bad for the driver - who had gotten out his warm bed to come help us, but like he told us, "It's part of the job." Ironically, I knew the tow truck driver from high school and went to class with his brother.

We dropped the car off at a tire shop a couple blocks from my parents house. My mom was waiting there for us with a warm van and permission to drive it to our house where she would get it the next day. A long day that became even longer was finally coming to an end.

I'm not sure if the story would have been the same had we been sitting on the New Jersey Turnpike. I'm sure somebody would have stopped but it wouldn't have been an acquaintance from high school and my mom certainly wouldn't have been waiting with a vehicle for us to drive home.

It was a cold night in Minnesota, which wasn't nice - but there were a lot of Minnesotans with warm hearts, who were very nice.

No comments: