Today’s writing prompt is about helping hands, and more specifically, an unexpected helping hand. I’ve really had to comb the deep dark recesses of my brain to come up with this one. But once it entered my mind, there was only one thing it could be.
I was heading down to Calgary (about 300 kilometres from where I lived) to join my best friend, his girlfriend, her twin sister, and others for New Year’s Eve. This would have been the mid-90s and I would have been in my early 20s then. Man, I’m feeling old already. I was driving a 1981 Ford Ranger (queue all the Ford jokes now – What does Ford stand for? Found on Road Dead), a small single row pick-up truck that I bought for less than $1000. The gas mileage was great, it had more spirit in the engine than I thought possible, and it was great for hauling around all of the sports equipment I had. Plus I splurged and got a pretty decent CD player put in (yeah, way before satellite radio and Bluetooth), so making this three hour trip wasn’t too bad.
Normally I left Edmonton straight after work to get there at a reasonable time, but this time I had to leave late as I had a soccer game in a tournament my team was playing. Pretty sure it was called the Polar Cup (indoors as an Alberta winter is cold and snowy). I left around 9 pm and was scheduled to pull up at their place at around midnight. For those who don’t know, in Alberta during December, it’s usually pitch black at around 4 pm. So, let’s just say that once outside the city and the street lights stopped, there was not much too illuminate the countryside.
Halfway through the journey and I was making excellent time. The roads weren’t as slippery as they could have been, there was less traffic than normal, and the super large Coke Slurpee from 7-11 had my eyes wide open and alert. Add to that some Black Sabbath on the CD player and I would not be falling asleep. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, my truck started to sputter, so I pulled over to the side of the road just in time for it to shake violently and then die. My hazard lights were on so I could see a few feet around me. Snow had just started to fall. Up ahead I noticed a road side turnout with some big rigs parked up in it. I decided I walk towards them to see if they could help me out. I started walking. And walking. And walking. What looked to be about 10 minutes kept getting further away, just like that door at the end of the hallway in a nightmare.
I looked to be about half way there (after 30 minutes walking) when I heard the soft honking of a car behind me. Now, I must preface this by saying I didn’t have a mobile phone back then. Not sure how many people had them, and if they did, not sure what the coverage was like back then. You youngsters really have no idea how lucky you are these days.
Because I’m brave, or stupid, or a combination of both, I approached their car when the window opened.
“Is that your truck back there?” The passenger asked.
“Yeah. It just conked out. Heading to Calgary but haven’t quite made it yet.”
“We can try and boost it for you, if you’d like?”
“Really? That would be great.”
I hopped into their car and we hit the first overpass to turn back towards my truck. These two Ukrainian-Canadian gentlemen, both around my dad’s age, were on their way to Calgary as well, but from a town north of Edmonton called Smoky Lake. I had been to Smoky Lake so we started to talk about that as we finally got back to my truck.
It started as I sat in it, and we all listened to the engine to see if we could hear anything. It was running but it didn’t sound healthy.
“Tell you what,” one of them started, “we’ll follow behind you all the way to Calgary just in case you run into any trouble.”
Delighted, I started to drive off. They were true to their word, and stayed behind me, obviously in no rush to get where they were going, which was good, as I stalled out another six times between there and my final destination, the last half of the trip taking twice as long as the first half. They shared their food with me (some sandwiches), and one of them regaled me with stories of his daughter, Sonja. Not sure if this was an invitation to join the family, but when we finally said goodbye, at just after 3 am, I felt like I knew Sonja so well that she would be embarrassed on a first date as I went in with too much information. For the record, there was no first date.
I never got their surnames, but Marvin (the driver) and Jacques (the passenger), made what could have been a terrible night a wonderful one. It’s been over 20 years since this happened, and okay, I have lost a lot of faith in humanity since then, but these two gentlemen could easily have bypassed me, like many cars had already done, and they would have lost no sleep over it. And I would not have blamed them. But they stopped, and continually stopped, each time one of them walking over to my truck to see what was going on. They even offered to drive me into Calgary if I wanted a tow truck to come and get the truck. Selfishly I wanted to drive in and save the money; unselfishly they stayed with me the whole time. The magnitude of that is not lost on me.
It was really snowing when we pulled up outside my friend’s house, six sets of eyes watching us from the window. They all came out to greet us, asking what went on, and before I told them I introduced them to Marvin and Jacques. My friend’s girlfriend brought out some cake and coffee for the two of them, and then they told me they weren’t heading as far south as Calgary at tall, but to a tiny town just off the first overpass where they turned around to drive me back to my truck. And like that they were gone, coffee in travel mugs, simply happy with a thank you and no money for the extra gas they had used or anything.
The next night I had one of my best New Year’s Eves ever. But it nearly wasn’t.