Sunday, March 12, 2006

Musings on what should have been a bad day

The whole family had been invited yesterday to the Annual ADE Conference, put on by our friend Cardo. ADE stands for the Association of Dumpling Eating -- so yes, this was an eating event, one to which we had been invited to for at least the last couple years. Something had always come up -- last year, for example, Xan appeared -- and we have not been able to make it. I resolved that I would go this year, no matter what. Since she is off to a conference later this week, Angela almost decided not to come -- but then realized that between my conference last week, hers this coming week and all the work we have had to do, we have not had any time for each other in recent history. So we thought this would be a good time to socialize not only with other good folks, but with each other. Plus, Ric lives in Annapolis and the day was scheduled to be sunny, warm and lovely -- a perfect day for an outing with the family.

Our first problem was expected: we ran late. Or rather, Xan's sleep schedule did not coincide with our departure schedule. He decided to nap for two hours instead of one, so we called saying that we would be late running out the door. Ric said, no problem, it is a rolling event anyway.

When we left, I remembered that I did not have to go up to 495 via New Hampshire Avenue; rather, I could just continue straight down 410 from our house and we would eventually cross it. Unfortunately, I forget that I am not supposed to take Ager Road, which only leads us back into DC. We end up semi-lost (Ange was nice and called it a "detour") in what turned out to be a lovely part of NE DC (Brentwood, I believe?), with me insisting that we would eventually have to cross New York Avenue, which was also Route 50, which would take us to Annapolis. Ange navigated using our handy-dandy DC street map; as we got to West Virginia Avenue, she noted that we were going by a prison -- and then looked up and noted that every business around there had super-barbed wire surrounding. Yikes. At least we would not have to stay here very long. We turn onto New York Avenue, whoop it up for a moment and finally think we are on our way...

...and then the car starts to wobble uncontrollably.

We realize that, oh my goodness, we have a flat tire.

We pull over right beyond the National Arboretum. I do not know how to change a tire. I turn to Angela and ask her if she knows. She says no. This is, in fact, the first time that either one of us has gotten a flat. Crap. We realize we are perhaps not in the most savory part of town (although not exactly near West Virginia Ave). We call AAA; they say someone will show up in less than an hour, to hang tight, that they will put a priority flag on it. Ange carts Xan -- who has been a trooper through all of this, happy as a clam on another new adventure -- off to the Arboretum, while I sit and wait for someone to come.

A semi-beat-up car then stops in front of me. A man steps out, smoking a cigarette. "It looks like you have a problem here."

"Yeah," I say. "A flat. And stupidly, I don't know how to change it."

"I can do it for you with no problem."

"I already called Triple-A."

He looks at me and laughs. "Man, I'm a mechanic. They ain't coming here anytime soon. You'll be here for three hours, at least. I'll have you done in ten minutes."

I am entirely unsure about this. The guy has weird teeth, I'm not in a great neighborhood, my wife and child are nearby but not here, I have a grand total of one (one!) dollar on me and I'm clearly going to have to give him money. Plus, AAA is (in theory) on its way. This is probably not a good idea. My instincts from living in Peru in the 80s are kicking in and say, No no no, just make him go away and wait for the official people to arrive. But before I can protest too much, he gets out my jack and my doughnut and starts changing my tire. I call Ange and tell her to come back.

Indeed, he is done in less than ten minutes. And, having shown me what to do -- really, it was simple after all -- I have learned something. I am really grateful. "How much do I owe you for this?" I ask.

"What do you want to give me?" he asks.

"Look," I say, and show him my wallet. "I have a grand total of one dollar. I'd like to give you twenty. Let me see what my wife has. If worse comes to worse, maybe we can find a bank."

It has already gone through my mind that this was a bad idea in the first place, that I could possibly get robbed or worse, and Ange and Xan are there with me, too. Ideally, I would have cash on me and that would be it -- but no, now I could go to the bank and this guy could ask me to drain my bank account for him. Holding my family hostage, I would probably give him anything. All sorts of scenarios run through my head. Like I said, child of Peru in the 80s. But, also, fair is fair: I need to give him something.

Ange comes back. She has nothing. The man says, "Look, you need to find a service station anyway. Follow me, I'll lead you to a bank that is right next to a service station." We agree, pile into the car, follow.

He leads us to a Bank of America on Kenilworth Avenue. I get a $20-bill from the machine, pay him. He directs us to the service station across the street. I finally ask him his name: he says James. He says goodbye, and drives away.

My trust in people remains intact. There is no way that James would be reading this, but thank you, James, truly.

But wait, the adventure is not over. James seemed to think that our flat was caused by a puncture and that the tire could be fixed easily and we would be back on our way to Annapolis in no time. Mind you, we still have not eaten lunch because, well, we were planning on loading up on dumplings. In the service station, however, we find that the tire has literally just slashed itself -- I said, "Slash? Someone slashed our tires" but no, it was on the inside -- and that we needed a new tire. These, however, were Costco tires purchased just three months ago. I asked if my doughnut would make it back to College Park so that I could just have them reinstall it for free. The guy said yes.

We make it to Costco. No problem fixing it, it's also under warranty. The wait, however, will be around two hours.

We have no other form of transportation. We agree, and gear ourselves up for a massive wait within Costco. At this point, we also call Cardo and say there is no way we could get there before Xan would melt down. Once again, dumplings are denied to us! We then spend two hours (and nearly a hundred bucks) on stuff at the store, taking a considerable amount of time to fill up on the samples, feed Xan on the display model of a porch swing, read a story from one of the open books and generally cavort.

Here's the funny thing, and why I am blogging about this at all: as we were heading home, sans dumplings and with a new tire, Ange and I looked at each other and could not say that it had been a bad day. In fact, we were still in a good mood after all this. Xan was still doing fine (if by now a tad cranky), having chalked it all up to yet another adventure. And we still got to spend some family time all together, if not precisely the way we planned. I am not entirely sure that this is because we are optimists (after all, included in this equation are not one but two Dadaks, and I say that with love), but it was actually nice to come to the end of the day and still think things are good.


J.J. said...

Ha, "generally cavort." A riveting story of familial hardiness.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Here's the thing, Jeff. Neither one of you can change a tire? Really? I'd definitely put that on the "to-do"'s easy and can be really fast. That said, seems like a guardian angel James showed up for you that day. -- Gretchen

Holly said...

When we were moving from Ann Arbor to NOLA, we had a flat in our station wagon in the middle of Nowhere, Kentucky. I was driving the wagon, with 5 month old Will in the backseat surrounded by the majority of our valuable household items not trusted to the movers... including Paul's (read: work's) super-computer and huge flat screen monitors. Paul followed in our old truck filled with other belongings and two slightly drugged cats.

Paul alerted me on the walkie-talkies we were using that I had a bad flat. I took the first exit, where the pavement ended after the first 500 yards or so. After about a mile we rolled out of the woods and to a small town (could it qualify as a town?) with a fire department, church, and gas station. That was it. We pulled into the dusty gas station lot -- just in time, I was about to roll on the rim.

No cell phone coverage: we had to seek out pay phones to call both VW on-road support and AAA. The key learning moment for us when when we discovered that neither service will come to fix a flat because the car comes with a full-sized spare. The fact that the spare was sitting underneath most of our worldly belongings and that we had an infant apparently didn't matter. So, out comes all our stuff, in the dirt, in the middle of Nowhere, Kentucky.

The scariest moment: when the scary truck pulled up beside us and the man with the swashtika tatooed on his face -- no kidding -- walked up. Paul and I had a moment where he looked at me to say, "the keys are in the truck, take Will and run." Thankfully, the guy turned out to be harmless (at least to us), commented on "our fancy TVs" (meaning Paul's computer monitors), and told us to "watch out for the heathens in these parts." I think I aged a few years after that encounter.

It took us about two hours to re-group, fix the car, and get back on the road. What a nightmare!

Simon said...


I make the drive from TP to Annapolis all the time and I've tried many different paths to get there including 410 to Route 50. The fastest way (except on Maryland football game days) is to take Carroll Ave. north, cross University Blvd., until it hits Piney Branch. Make a right onto Piney Branch and take that until NH Ave. Make a left on NH, get on the Beltway and then take Route 50 to Annapolis. Good luck. Sorry about the dumplings.