Recently, I read a list of unusual feelings.
What is the feeling when you have the realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own? Sonder.
What is the feeling when you realize that the plot of your life doesn’t make sense to you anymore? Nodus Tollens.
The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place? Monachopsis.
So, I ask, what is the feeling when your motorhome breaks down at the East Mullen, Idaho exit, and you can magically limp the vehicle across the highway to a perfectly level spot in front of a huge green sports field in a town with a 24-hour mechanic, where the rig quits completely, and 20 four-year-olds flock to the sports field for a T-ball tournament?
Years ago, I was traveling through Wyoming with my father on our way to Colorado to help my brother move when a deer charged us on that great expanse of empty highway and slammed into my Subaru Outback. My dad kept saying how lucky we were.
We pulled over to assess the damage. The car was totaled, but drivable. And we were ok, shaken up, but ok. A couple had pulled over behind us, where the deer flew after hitting our car. It landed feet in front of them. They had a newborn baby in a car seat.
My dad said we were all so lucky. No one got hurt. The baby did not get hurt. We were all scared and my car was drivable. I’d need to buy a new car, but we could get to Colorado and back to Montana, barring another suicidal deer.
We were so lucky, my father said. He felt so grateful. I thought, yes, but I need to find the money for a new car. I need to spend the money I had saved, for once in my life, on a new car, something I didn’t need ten minutes earlier. How is that lucky? I couldn’t understand it.
Well, here’s what happened at Mullen, Idaho. I heard something go in the engine of my 2003 Starflyte Dynamax motorhome as I was heading up Mullen Pass. Suddenly, the temperature gage went from cool to red hot.
I took the exit to East Mullen. I pulled over at the top of the exit ramp where the engine shut down. I lifted the hood and steam engulfed me. A man with a long gray ponytail pulled over, got out, and held two small bottles of water toward me. “I have this much water,” he said.
Until that moment, I didn’t understand the problem. But of course. The radiator had overheated. He offered a solution. We poured his water and all my water into the overflow tank for the radiator. He said, “Go to town right now. You’ll find a store and more water.” The water in the overflow tank boiled and I could see the water pouring out onto the pavement. I got in, turned the key, and surprisingly, the engine started.
I drove across the bridge to Mullen. The power steering was gone. The power brakes were gone. I got as far as the sports field, with a nice little pullover that could have been made for an RV, and the engine shut down again.
I called my insurance company for a tow. They suggested a mobile RV service in Thompson Falls, Montana, only 49 miles away. But the person on the line didn’t understand Idaho and Montana roads or RV service versus engine repair service.
A tow to Thompson Falls meant two hours of travel down the pass-through Wallace and Burke and Murray, Idaho, and up and over Thompson Pass to get to the little town only 49 miles away. Also, RV places often won’t work on engines. I said I’d call them back.
Mullen just happens to have H&H Mobile, a 24-hour mobile mechanic. I got the answering machine and left a message. I unhooked the car and drove to the store for drinking water. I had poured all of mine into the engine.
At the store, I asked about H&H mobile. The woman gave them an excellent review. Since I was stuck at the sports field I asked If I’d be in trouble with law enforcement. “Absolutely not. You’ll be fine.”
By the time I got back out to the car, Lisa from H&H Mobile had left me a message, saying she could have a mechanic to me in about two hours, and that they wanted to help get me back on the road. The mechanic arrived an hour and a half later. He diagnosed the problem and explained each component to me.
The serpentine belt had frayed and broken into about five unique pieces. It broke because the bearings on the water pump had worn out and, as a result, the engine fan rattled, wreaking havoc in the engine compartment. I needed a serpentine belt and a new water pump, and maybe some hoses.
It was Saturday evening, and he could get parts on Monday and have me back on the road by Tuesday. That sounded much better than having the motorhome towed 110 miles to a mechanic in Missoula, Montana, which had become my second-best option.
So, I was there, in East Mullen, Idaho, with a dog and an old cat, parked on a level spot at the magnificently green lawn of the sports field, waiting for parts to fix the motor home, with nothing to do but knit, read, walk the dog, and generally relax. Which wasn’t all bad.
On Monday evening, I was sitting out on the giant lawn knitting and enjoying the sun when about 20 four-year-olds and their parents arrived at the sports field for a T-ball tournament. The population of Mullen, Idaho is 840. I think about 800 of them showed up at the four-year-olds’ games. After a weekend of solitude, the town cars and town people surrounded my motorhome.
Children chased each other and rolled across the grass. Parents brought their picnic dinners to watch the games. And teams of four-year-olds focused (or didn’t) on the ball and ran the bases (or something close to the bases.) It was adorable, and a very sweet way to spend my last night broken down on the pass.
Later that evening, after the spectators and competitors had all left, a woman walked by with a beautiful black Belgium Shepard. She offered to bring a casserole to me for dinner. “I’m just right up there,” she said and pointed up the hill. “Let me know if you need anything.” Two nights in a row, H&H mobile mechanics offered to bring me dinner. “Call us if you need anything.”
I finally understood my father. I felt so lucky to have broken down in a beautiful place, on a level spot, in a town with a 24-hour mechanic, who answered their phones and worked hard to get me back on the road. I was safe.
People were friendly and kind. And a group of young T-ballers made me smile. If I had to break down somewhere, this was as good as I could imagine. Good fortune, good luck, and a few wild prayers graced me that weekend.
What is the feeling when your motorhome breaks down at the East Mullen, Idaho exit, and you can magically limp the vehicle across the highway to a perfectly level spot in front of a magnificently green sports field, where the rig quits completely in a town with a 24-hour mechanic, and 20 four-year-olds flock to the field for a T-ball tournament? Gratitude. Pure gratitude. I was so lucky.