My car had been making a monster-like noise for weeks. I put on my Super Mechanic Woman Thinking Cap, so I knew it was steering or brakes, and I tried to ignore it, but I was getting worried.
Finally, this past Saturday the noise was too loud to cover up by cranking up the stereo. Of course, I picked a Saturday to freak out, and my normal garage wasn’t open. So I headed to the closest place, a tiny tire joint I’d never even noticed before: Twilight Zone Tire.
The gruff guy with a Boston accent said they’d get to it before closing. It was 1 p.m. They closed at 6. I was in for the long haul.
It was a chilly-sunny day, and I’d been feeling beaten down and tired from life’s knocks. Sighing, I shuffled to the waiting room, quickly scoring vending machine Cheetos and a coffee (nasty combo, but whatever). I made myself comfy, taking the last seat, thumbing through a … damn, nothing better than a Good Housekeeping. Look younger! Lose weight! Make fattening cheesecake!
There were four other women in the waiting room. Across from me sat a Drew Barrymore look-a-like. We’ll call her DB. Next to me, a heavyset woman with a droopy leather jacket and a bowl cut (BC). Next to her, a wiry woman with beach combing pants and white Keds (WK), and another motherly type, a quiet listener (QL).
DB started talking. And talking. The rest of us listened. At times, BC and WK tried to interject something, but DB was on a roll.
The strange part was that normally the cars at a shop got done one at a time. People appear and disappear over time, right? Not so that day. All five of us were stuck there together for at least three hours. Strange indeed.
During that time, we learned DB’s entire story. She shared where she’d been, where she lived and worked, and then it got deeper. Her husband had recently dumped her. She was in therapy. Mildly put, lately she’d been through it. She thanked me for saying she looked like Drew Barrymore.
Then some random intruder poked her head into the waiting room and yelled, “No! She looks like Susan Sarandon!” I stood corrected. WK piped in that her husband had recently left her and that she was retired but was now looking for a job. Then everyone started networking, sharing job information, suggesting temp agencies, kicking in ideas, putting it on the table.
BC said, “We’re all struggling. All of us.” Everyone in the room muttered, “Mmm hmm.” Everyone nodded in unison.
QL finally spoke, saying that she just got her car at a discount place. “It’s been running pretty good.” Then she rolled her eyes at the irony, considering where she was sitting.
DB rattled on about her ex and how she was screwed.
WK sifted through coupons. I wondered how I was going to pay to fix my car.
We were all feeling it. Divorces, losing jobs, health costs and that one little thing — a car problem — had thrown us all off into the red. These women all had problems, but they focused on DB, who seemed the worst off. Complete strangers, they listened, relating, leaning in close, visibly concerned. I forgot about my car, and I had the thought, “We’re all struggling, but we’re all in this together.”
Finally, DB’s car was done. She cheered. We all cheered for her. She thanked everyone, talking all the way to the checkout counter. Nonstop. Maybe, more than anything, she just needed an ear.
BC and QL were next. Leaving, they waved and cheered.
Only WK and I were left. It was strangely quiet without DB’s voice filling the waiting room. I said to WK, “I hope she’s all right, that Drew Barrymore girl.”
WK nodded, crossing and uncrossing her Keds, moving her long, thin legs, shifting in the hard chair.
“Made me wonder about the hard stuff, why it happens to some the way it does,” I said.
WK looked me in the eye. “You just never know what people are going through. We’ve all got a story.”
I laughed. “For sure. You should be a writer.
Still, it makes me wonder why some get it worse at times.”
“Don’t know,” WK said. “I guess if I knew the answer to that, I wouldn’t be sitting here in a tire place,” I said, chuckling.
WK chuckled, too, and weirdly both of our cars were ready at the same time.
When I checked out, the white-haired man with the handlebar mustache told me he’d been in the tire business for 35 years. He said he was there before they built the place, and it was wearing him out. Then he smiled and looked at me with shockingly blue eyes and said, “Come back and spend next Saturday with us.”
I might. Like WK said, everyone has a story. Three hundred dollars and a new credit card later, I left Twilight Zone Tire and was on the road.
Sure, I was upset about the money, but I thought about the way it happened — how I waited until Saturday, how I stumbled inside a random shop, how I met four caring women and how they gave me a story beyond what I ever thought would happen that day, the story of this: We’re all in this together.
CONTACT C.A. MACCONNELL: [email protected]