This past Sunday evening, at a dark and dismal highway rest stop somewhere between California and Arizona, our car broke down. With all the spectacle and force of Yellowstone’s “Old Faithful” geyser, caustic anti-freeze steam rose from the car’s engine, giving off a sour smell that turned rancid as fumes touched our tongues. Violent bursts of boiling hot greenish water erupted from within the radiator and from deep within the engine’s bowels, scorching the asphalt landscape underneath.
We had been traveling with a fully-packed car and a fully-packed trailer, making our way from California to Arizona. “We” included me, Mark, and Mark’s son who only weeks earlier decided to take the big leap from High School graduation in California to the possibilities of college education in Arizona.
Besides crossing state lines, Mark’s son also would be leaping from living with his mother to living with us. To be honest, this part of his decision was ground-breaking, heaven-blessed news. No sooner had he said YES did we empty our teardrop trailer to make room for a mattress, clothes, and everything else one accumulates in 17 years of living. Over a three-day weekend, we made the seven hour trip to Cali before the whims of teenage change shifted out of our favor.
But halfway along our jubilant drive home to Arizona, just about an hour before we expected to exit California, we got the message from the universe, “Whoa! Not so easy!”
There we stood at a highway rest stop—sun setting, front hood open, puddles of hot water at our feet—realizing we had more to deal with than waiting for an engine to cool. We definitely had a significant leak somewhere and only so much time left in our flashlight battery life to successfully diagnose just where.
Compounding our problem, Mark couldn’t fit under our low-profile PT Cruiser to diagnose where he needed to. Even if he could locate the car jack buried under boxes in the car, we both knew he wasn’t small enough to fit underneath the car.
That’s when I saw it . . . “the look” on Mark’s face.
He did his best to poker-face through troubleshooting, but the look dripped out and spilled all over his face. The look said, we’re screwed.
At a minimum, we needed a repair shop, a replacement hose, and more than a snow cone’s chance in Hades that we could have our car AND trailer towed for less than a small fortune. We already knew the chances of any repair shop or auto parts store being open late Sunday night were slim to none. We also knew chances were slim the next small town would even have those options available, let alone hotel accommodations if we had to wait till morning.
As for our trailer, leaving it behind in favor of having the car alone towed demanded our up-front acceptance that said trailer would likely be stolen or ransacked before we returned to claim it.
Reality dictated we had to deal with our dilemma alone. Even though Mark knows his way in and out of engines, unless he magically lost 50 pounds, there was no way he could fit under and fix the car; hence, “the look.”
Shortly after that realization, from out of the dark, a black car backed up to ours. Out from it appeared a man of small stature, wearing a neat, white shirt and light-colored shorts that hung well past his knees.
“Jou got problems with jour car?” the Spanglish-speaking man asked Mark.
“Uh, Yeah, but it’s no easy fix. It’s leaking somewhere underneath, but I can’t get under to find it.”
“I mechanic. I help.”
“But we can’t fit under . . . ”
“Under car? No problem. I fit,” the man said.
“No. You can’t. It’s too tight, and you’ll ruin your . . . ”
“I fit!” he said, waving an arm behind him, shushing away Mark’s concerns while bee lining to the trunk of his car. Within seconds, he emerged with a sturdy car jack. We had already rolled the front left tire onto a low curb, but the little man jacked it up even higher and gave it a good shake to make sure it was stable. Without hesitation, he slipped under the car on a blanket we laid down to protect his body and clothing.
Mark and I looked at each other in quizzical amusement, as if to say Are ya’ kiddin’ me? Who IS this guy?
“An angel,” I uttered out loud.
“No kidding,” he said, and then called down into the engine, “Hey, what’s your name?”
“Rodrigo,” came the reply.
“Rodriguez?” Mark asked.
“Hey, how about I call you Rod?”
“Okay,” Rodrigo said, clearly relieved.
Eventually, after lots of radiator water refills, engine turnovers, and poking around our car’s underbelly, “Rod” emerged with the broken hose. Just what Mark did and didn’t want to see.
Rod checked the time on his watch, looked up at the black sky while his brain ran a calculation. He shook his head right, left, and back again, saying, “Las nueve. Auto parts closed.” He let out a weighted sigh, so we did too. Screwed.
Then Rod perked up. “I want to try . . . ” he said, as he animated for us that he would cut the damaged end off the hose and try to re-seat it.
Mark had his doubts. The hose was very short already and seemed to be an exact, necessary length. “I see what you’re saying, but I think we’re gonna need a new hose.”
“I have hose,” Rod said.
“What?” Mark asked. “You have a hose?”
“You have a hose.”
“Si. But we try this first. Okay?”
“You have a hose,” Mark repeated, like a skipping record.
“Si,” he said, signaling Mark and me to follow him over to the trunk of his car. “I pick up today from junkyard, from old Ford car.”
In Rod’s car trunk were several grocery bags of pulled parts from old cars, with several hoses in one of the bags–one of which was a potential match for our broken hose. Also in the trunk were eight bags of groceries. And from inside Rod’s car emerged a young mother and three small children.
Mark held the hose up into the dim light, turning it around, examining it. It wasn’t perfect, but it looked like it could work. I watched his wrinkled brow relax, as he turned his fascination to Rod. “Where did you come from?” Mark asked.
” Qué ? . . . my car,” Rod said.
“No, where did you come from?”
Rod tried again. “Blythe,” he said, but clearly the question remained over his head.
You’re heaven sent,” I said, but Rod still didn’t understand.
For the next several hours, over and over again, Rod disappeared under the engine and emerged with arms covered in black oil. I remained at the ready, handing him several paper towels to clean his arms each time he reappeared. Each time, he eagerly explained what he’d done and found so far, then he and Mark discussed the next thing he was going under to do.
At some point, Rod came up from under the car, covered in oil again, and looked over at his wife, gesturing whether he should take off his white shirt before it was too late. She nodded in the affirmative, saying “Oooooh, Sexy!” while Rod carefully pulled the shirt over his head. We all laughed while he shrugged his shoulders as if to say, It is what it is.
Most of the time, Rod’s wife and children milled around, easily keeping themselves entertained. And Mark’s son, rather than brooding ad nauseum about his battery-dead iPhone and the clear mistake of agreeing to take this trip, instead helped out by taking on the role of water fetcher.
All the while, Mark and I flashed “the other look” . . . the Oh-my-God-we-are-in-the-midst-of-heavenly-intervention-right-now look. We smiled softly at one another, shook our heads in disbelief, and silently counted our blessings.
Even when Rod’s youngest son collapsed into a tear-filled meltdown after he or one of his siblings accidentally slammed a car door on his fingers, Rod checked in on the crying child, but quickly came back to work on our car. Even while the groceries in the back of their car were warming in 70 to 80-degree temperatures, Rod kept working on our car. Even though Rod’s family had been out the entire day themselves and seemed tuckered out, Rod kept working on our car.
Just about midnight, Rod and Mark fixed the car enough to make it drive-able. Whether it would get us all the way home remained in question, but our odds had improved significantly.
Realizing we had a good chance of making it home, we fought back tears and squeezed Rod with heartfelt hugs. I hugged Rod’s wife and thanked her profusely for her family’s great kindness and patience, to which she simply said, “We had this happen to us once. We remember what it was like.”
Mark and I scrounged up $60 between us and gave it to Rod, apologizing for our meager offering. He received it graciously and said, “Remember, you buy good hose from dealer. You return old hose to me. Si?”
“Si. Yes,” we said. His wife scribbled their address on a writing pad for us, which I promptly stuffed on the dashboard of our car. Rod had just offered—no . . . insisted upon— closely following us on the road for the next 40 miles to make sure we were all right. He gave us his phone number in case of emergency.
Forty-five minutes later on the highway, we hung out our car windows, enthusiastically waving goodbye as Rod and his family took the exit ramp for “Lovekin Road.”
“Lovekin,” Mark said. “How appropriate.”
“I think we’ll need to drop off that hose in person,” I said, as I grabbed the writing pad from the dashboard.
“Without question,” Mark said. “I think we’ve made friends for life.”
For the rest of the ride home, Mark and I battled to stay awake. We walked in the door at 4 AM, grateful to make it home. We credited Rod and God for keeping us safe. Every time we almost nodded off in the car, we stirred up conversation again about Rod and the good fortune of his timely appearance.
Like many other folks, we have often pondered, Do angels exist? And if so, Where do angels come from?
We know the answer now. Angels do exist. They come unexpectedly from out of nowhere in exactly the form needed and with exactly what is needed to save us from despair. And apparently, at least according to the information on our writing pad, some angels come from “Blythe, California” and go by the name “Rodrigo.”
According to at least one source on the internet, Rodrigo generally means: “You are a law unto itself. Your tendency is to finish whatever you start. You are tolerant and like to help humanity. You are generally warmhearted and give freely of your time, energy, and sympathetic understanding. You have tolerance and acceptance of the frailties of others. Universal and humanitarian in outlook. This is a very compassionate name.”
We concur. Rodrigo was our angel for the night and lived up, in every way, to the meaning of his perfectly assigned name.
Peace to you all as you travel the highways and roads of life.
May you be as fortunate as we were this weekend to experience and recognize the limitless gifts of the universe.
Love each other. Help each other. Be nothing but kind to each other, and I guarantee it will come back to you a thousand fold.
NOTE: A significantly shortened version of this story has since appeared in the book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America”