I heard my wheel make that adrenaline-spiking “THUP THUP THUP” noise and pulled over onto the shoulder immediately.
It’s terrifying being on the highway when you’re not the one driving. The air being displaced by 18-wheelers and oil tankers thundering by shook my car over and over again, and pelted my face with pieces of gravel when I got out to inspect the damage.
The tire didn’t look visibly flat. I called Florida Highway Patrol anyway because the noise had been enough to terrify me to pull over. (The long story involves dialing FHP and getting a list of menu options I couldn’t decipher, then calling 911, then getting routed to an officer in West Palm Beach who routed me to an officer in Orlando, finally.)
They said they’d send a Road Ranger.
When the truck pulled up with lights blinking and a white man in his 50s got out, I steeled myself.
I thought he would be someone who hated his job, someone who spent his days feeling put-upon and annoyed at crazy motorists, and worst of all I was resigned to dealing with someone who would look down on me and talk down to me and try to make me second-guess myself.
But he wasn’t like that at all. He listened and took me seriously when I told him what happened. He tucked his lanky body into the space between the chalky barricade and my car like he could have been there all day, carefully inspecting the wheel for damage. Not once did he belittle me or make me feel stupid.
After he had changed the tire and checked the air pressure of the other ones, I tried to give him some money. He rebuffed, even when I insisted.
I got back in my car. In my rear view mirror I saw him standing by his truck, motioning to motorists who weren’t changing lanes with both arms like he was throwing fish. They dutifully turned on their blinkers and switched lanes so I could merge back onto the highway.
I never got his name, but I’ll never forget him.
I prepare every day for a thousand little cuts and wounds, but I don’t prepare for kindness.
I think from now on, I will.