There are a few things in life that give you that sinking feeling in your stomach and a sense of dread – the check engine light coming on is one of them. Now, multiply those feelings by 1,000 when it happens an hour and a half from home and in an area where there isn’t a heck of a whole lot. This was exactly my predicament a couple weeks ago. I finally had a full week at home and was invited to join some friends in North Myrtle Beach for a few days. The drive was uneventful at first, and was actually quite beautiful. The weather was seasonable, and the roads were fairly quiet as I drove with the moonroof open and tunes playing on the radio. As I approached the North Carolina/South Carolina line, I felt my vehicle give a slight jerk and then saw the dreaded check engine light come on.
Immediately, my mind began to race. What could it be? Was it serious, as in, check-the-engine-now-dummy-or-else? Or, was it more of a suggestion? As though I could make it to my destination and then check it. (Don’t we always hope it’s the latter?) I slowed the vehicle down and glanced at the dash every five seconds hoping the warning signal would just miraculously disappear. But, it didn’t. Then, I happened to look at the temperature gauge. The needle was in the red. I’m no car guru, but I’m smart enough to know that that isn’t good. I took the nearest exit and pulled off to the side of the road. There was literally nothing around me, and no one was passing me. It was obvious no one was going to assist me there. I tried several times to call my friends, one of whom is a mechanic for American Airlines, but no one answered. I knew I needed to find a service station or at the least, a gas station. Using my phone, I searched “gas stations.” There was one about a mile and a half from my current location.
Unfortunately, I would have to get back onto the main highway to get there. I knew that running my car at 60 mph or higher would not be good for it. After about 15 minutes of allowing the engine to cool, I made my move. Slowly, I merged back onto the highway with hazard lights flashing. With luck, traffic was still light and almost nonexistent, so I was able to maintain a fairly slow speed so as not to overwork the engine. Time seemed to crawl as I made my way closer and closer to the gas station. After what seemed like an eternity, I pulled into the lot and parked my overheating car into a parking space. A sense of relief washed over me, but I still wasn’t out of the woods yet. I was an hour and a half from home and two hours from North Myrtle – not exactly a great situation to find oneself in with a malfunctioning car.
Exiting the car, I popped the hood and began removing the panel that covered the radiator cap. Leaving the hood open to once again allow the engine to cool off, I entered the gas station to look for coolant. Walking around, I saw everything but what I needed. Perhaps they keep it locked up somewhere because it’s a high commodity, I thought to myself. I walked over to the register area with its shelves of colorfully wrapped candies, gums and other snacks glaring at me. “Do you sell coolant?” I asked.
The answer wasn’t what I was hoping for – “No.” A variation of the word “crap” may or may not have come out of my mouth. Now what? I was getting stuck further and further up the creek without a paddle – the paddle being a bottle of coolant in this case. As I was turning to head back outside, a young man in his mid to late 20s who I’ll refer to as, “Country” stopped me. This person, whom I’d never seen in my life, told me he keeps a jug of water in the bed of his pickup truck and that I was welcome to it. Slightly surprised that a complete stranger was offering to help me, I thanked him and went back outside to wait for him to retrieve the jug. As though I was no bother to him at all, Country proceeded to fill my radiator with the jug of water (I learned a valuable lesson that day about checking my radiator levels on a regular basis). Not only did Country fill my radiator, but he then proceeded to walk over to the spigot on the side of the building, refill the jug with water, and then brought it back to me telling me to keep it just in case I needed it further along in my journey. I thanked Country profusely for his help and told him how much I appreciated him. After exchanging a few more pleasantries and “good lucks,” Country made his way back to his blue pickup truck, started the engine and drove off. Replacing the panel and shutting the hood of my car, I climbed back inside. Unsure of the results, I pushed the ignition button to watch the temperature gauge climb halfway and then stop. The water had done the trick, and my car was purring again with the check engine light no longer glowing.
As I turned back onto the highway to continue my journey south, I thought about how my faith in fellow man has been less than suboptimal over the past few years. I thought about the fact that Country could have easily ignored me and my plight, and just continued on with his day unbothered and unfazed by my problems. But, he didn’t. And so, in that remote area near the North Carolina/South Carolina line, my faith in humanity was restored, even if just a little. It was a reminder that there are still good people out there. May we all strive to be a little bit more like that young man, Country.