A couple of hours ago we pulled into our driveway after two semi-long days of driving over more than a few hundred miles. We spent Christmas and a little over a weeks time with my family in Maine (I'll write more about our trip in a couple of days) and as it always does, the time seemed to pass too quickly and before I knew it we were packing up to make the return trip to Indiana.
The night before we left I had a horribly unsettling feeling that caused me a great deal of anxiety and worry. I normally have difficulty leaving the northeast - it's home to me and I feel more at ease and at peace there than I do anywhere else - but this was more than just separation pangs. Though I wasn't sure what, I was convinced that something was going to happen and it made me physically ill. That gut feeling was so overwhelmingly strong that I logged in to my retirement accounts and insurance policies to make sure that my beneficiary information was updated and current. The Other Half walked in on me during this process and commented that it seemed ominous.
If there's one thing that The Other Half will tell you its that when I get those gut feelings - those strange intuitive thoughts that I can't place but won't ignore - they rarely turn out to be wrong. Some people would call it a sixth sense and he'll tell you he can't explain it and I hardly ever ignore it. I made him promise me that if we got started down the road and the feeling wouldn't go away that if I told him to stop, we'd stop and break the trip up over three days instead of two.
When I woke up on Monday morning I was still feeling uneasy, but nowhere near as badly as I had the night before. The weather was beautiful for traveling and because of the holiday traffic was light and easygoing. We stopped over at the Rochester Airport Marriott, enjoyed pizza from a fabulous pizza place (Pontillo's), ordered room service for dessert, I had a glass of wine and somehow or another we all managed to make it to midnight and welcome the new year of 2013 in as a family. Still, the uneasiness stayed with me and was with me this morning when I woke up and we hit the road.
We made a detour to Niagara Falls - The Other Half has never seen it and we thought that it would provide a break in the car ride monotony for The Oldest and The Munchkin. Our route there wasn't the most direct - and we joked that it was a Larry Keith detour as my late father-in-law would often get sidetracked from Point A to Point B by going sightseeing along the way by going off on planned detour. Either way, it wound along the lake shore and with the wind blowing as fiercely as it was, the waves were beautiful rolling in to shore. As you might imagine, Niagara Falls in January isn't exactly a tourist hotspot, especially when covered over by snow, but after making our way to the point closest to the falls we managed to get out, take some photographs and then continue on our way.
Both The Oldest and The Munchkin had been Super Amazing travel companions. They danced some and watched DVDs, were occasionally cranky (as their momma gets) when hungry but were otherwise very content and happy especially given that this type of driving could test the patience of adults. We were able to drive and keep interruptions to a minimum by stopping only for gas and picking up lunch at a McDonald's drive-through.
We had just crossed over the Indiana border when I glanced at the dashboard (The Other Half was driving by this point) and asked if we needed to stop for gas. He replied with what mileage remained in our road trip and what the remaining fuel levels were at. I was a little worried because we've had problems with the fuel gauge suddenly dropping at an exponential rate, but I didn't think much of it until he commented that maybe our consumption to mileage remaining would require us to stop.
It wasn't more than a few miles later, as we approached an exit where there was a gas station, that the engine cut out. Thankfully the stretch of I-70 we were on was slightly downhill so we were able to coast toward the exit hoping that maybe we'd somehow be able to get closer than we were to help. The fuel gauge was still showing that we had gas in the tank so it was going to be a guess as to whether or not a couple of gallons of gas would help get us on our way again. As we coasted downhill he tried to start the engine again but with no luck.
We came to a stop just under an overpass and right at the start of the exit off-ramp and no sooner had we started to try and figure out what needed to be done and who we should try and call if we needed help when suddenly a small pickup pulled off to the side ahead of us, came to a stop and someone walked over to ask The Other Half if he needed help. The Other Half told me that the kind stranger would drive him to the gas station and off they went.
I called 911 to report that I was in a disabled vehicle with two small girls and that The Other Half had gone to see if fuel would help. While I waited for either a Sheriff's car or for The Other Half to return I called a friend (who I had sent a text asking if he'd be able to help if we needed it) for moral support and to keep me from freaking out in front of the girls. Before I knew it, I saw The Other Half running (yes, he was running - I've never seen him run before and I'm pretty sure I'll never see him run again) down the embankment, gas can in hand. A couple of nervous minutes later - gas in the tank - the engine turned over and we were able to get to the gas station to fill up and make the final push home.
I've always wondered what kind of person is willing to stop for a vehicle that's pulled over to the side of the road with their hazard lights on and see if they can help in any way. And tonight I got my answer. For us it was a young man in his early 20s. He had been in West Virginia and was on his way back to Indiana but had managed to get lost somewhere in Ohio. Why he stopped, especially given that he had gotten lost on his return trip and was probably behind his schedule, I don't know. I don't know his name because we didn't get a chance to get it so I can't even send him a thank you. I do know that I am indebted to him for his willingness to help a family he didn't even know.
Someone was watching over us tonight. For The Other Half and me there's no doubt in our mind that it was his father. His dad spent his entire life working for the Indiana State Department of Transportation (INDOT). That we stalled out where we did and not a couple miles down the road where the next rest stop (not even services) was more than 20 miles down the road, had someone stop to help us within seconds, and that remarkably in the dark of a winter's night we all remained safe and were able to get on our way was all his doing. As we got back on to the interstate I looked at The Other Half and said that it was all his dad he turned to me and said, "You know, as I was putting the gas in the tank I was looking down the highway and was saying my thank yous to him." That someone was watching over us I believe is because of the people who were praying for us, a couple of whom because I specifically asked them to which I have never done before.
So to the stranger, our angel in disguise, thank you. I have made a promise that in an effort to repay your kindness I will do my best to extend the same random act of kindness throughout 2013. The Oldest and The Munchkin are asleep, soundly, in their beds and I have once again been reminded believe in the goodness in others.