I am so glad about the way our car broke down.
My wife and I drove south to Sedona on the day before Thanksgiving to rendezvous with my mother-in-law. Just after Kenab, the battery warning light came on the console of my wife’s Saturn Vue – which is a hybrid. I predicted that the light would go out within 5 minutes. I was wrong. The owner’s manual advised to service the vehicle as soon as possible. The next town was Page, Arizona. Another 20 miles down highway 89, another warning light came on – this time brining into question the working order of the brake system. By the time we saw the lights of Page, electrical systems were shutting down one at a time. As we came down the hill to Page, when my wife applied the brakes, the headlights, rear lights and all lights inside the vehicle (including lights on the console) flittered out. When she released the brakes, the lights came back on. Of course, going down a hill, brakes are more important than lights. We came to rest on the 89 and the corner of a main intersection.
Now, being the happy therapist, you might think that I just whipped out my optimism and said “No problem”, right? Well, not exactly. One of the first things I teach in Happiness 101 is to be real and acknowledge how you actually feel. I was disappointed and concerned. There were some real challenges that needed to be addressed: What is wrong with the car and how are we going to get to Sedona? Another thing I teach in Happiness 101 is that happier people are more likely to see solutions to problems and look for things that are going right, rather forecasting doom.
The first thing I found myself grateful for: the fact that we had cell phone service. My wife and I immediately began exploring our options. We remembered that we had AAA AND my wife remembered that our car insurance covers towing. I called AAA and she called the car insurance company. 10pm the night before Thanksgiving and agents answered at both agencies – something else to be grateful for – and they were both nice! Insurance would cover $100 of towing. AAA would cover 100 miles of towing and had “trip interruption coverage” – which meant they were willing to pay up to $1,000 of reimbursement for anything that might help us get back on our way, including hotel stays, meals and rental car! ‘Lots of good news, but we were still stuck beside the road…. Well, I was going to say “in the middle of no where” but anywhere north or south of Page was the REAL “middle of no where”. By comparison, Page was a thriving metropolis. Boasting a population of 9,000, luckily one of those residents was a tow truck driver. While we waited, my wife and I counted our blessing. While chilly, temperatures were tolerable – a real blessing because we had no heat at all. Another blessing was that “civilization” was only a short walk to the Radisson Hotel. Our vehicle was also well lit, so there would be less likely that we would be hit. We were also thankful that we had our cell phone because they also doubled as flashlights. I was especially thankful that I had thought to charge mine shortly before the car trouble began. We were also very appreciative of the couple that stopped to make sure we were okay. There was a real reassurance in that small gesture that helped us during those long minutes. The thing I was most grateful for was the partnership of my optimistic wife. While she did express concern about the vehicle, she was quick to point out how lucky we were to be in Page and how bad things might have been had the brakes gone out on a steep leg of our trip. We were grateful that we were able to travel with our vehicle in the towtruck to Flagstaff. We appreciated the tow-truck driver, B.J.. A friendly fellow who made good conversation – one who talked but did not talk TOO much. He was warm and when we thanked him for rescuing us on Thanksgiving eve, though he has a wife and daughter, he assured us with a nice “it’s all part of the job” response. We were glad that BJ recommended taking the car to a dealership that would be properly equipped to deal with the problem. It was also directly across the street from a nice hotel – and they had an opening! The staff there greeted us with warmth and expediency, recognizing the harried look of two worn holiday travelers. They even gave us the late check-in discount. I think they were just showing mercy on us when it was needed the most. The warmth of the hotel bed was a welcome and a stark contrast to the chill of the roadside breakdown.
My wife woke me gently after the Jacuzzi tub washed away any traces of negativity from our predicament. She announced that my mother-in-law would arrive to pick us up in a matter of minutes. Upon checking out, the morning staff offered the very first “Happy Thanksgiving” greeting of the day with a genuine note of warmth. I remembered how lucky I am to live in such an amazing place: where there is warmth and care and good people ready to lend a hand. I thanked both of the women at the front desk for working on a holiday and they verbalized their appreciation for acknowledging this. After all, they have families and friends too. Were no one willing to work, there would be no warm, safe hotel to offer haven. Moments later, the smile and hug of my mother-in-law felt like the crossing of a great finish line. The race not about car repair, but about giving thanks – and I won.
Frank Clayton, the Happy Therapist