There have been a few times in my life when I have needed help. When my own resources and ingenuity had failed; when I was in a strange place. Each time this has happened to me, a person has appeared out of nowhere to help. Call them Good Samaritans. Call them Godsends. Call it complete coincidence. I don't know. Perhaps the scared and the lost give off vibrations that attract both the well-intentioned and the nefarious - and I've just lucked out and attracted the benevolent variety.
|Wendover, NV, September 2011|
The four of us sat in the sky-blue Pontiac Bonneville in the parking lot of the casino in Wendover. The engine refusing to turn over. Refusing even to make that sad *click* when the battery is nearly dead. It was very late. The plan had been to spend a few hours in the casino and then head back across the Bonneville Salt Flats, back to Salt Lake and to sleep. It didn't look like that was going to happen.
My brothers had poked around under the hood and determined that the alternator was shot. There had been no hint of trouble when we'd left Salt Lake late on a bright, sunny afternoon. Where to get an alternator at two in the morning in a deserted border town?
It didn't occur to any of us to pool together our meager funds (credit cards? we didn't have those then) and get a couple of hotel rooms - leave the problem-solving for the sunlight hours - and so we sat, thinking of what to do next. We didn't see the man come up to the car. All of a sudden he was peering into the driver's side window, tapping his finger on the glass. Startled, my brother's head reared back. The lights in the parking lot had turned the stranger's face yellow, his hair into a bright halo. The man spoke through the glass, "Do you need some help?"
The man looked like Jesus. Or like the classic depictions of Jesus: tall and thin with long brown hair, a long beard. My brother replied and the man said, again through the glass, "I know where you can get one." It seemed utterly preposterous, but they were the words my brother needed to hear, and so he opened the door of the car. The man's voice was clear now, loud, since glass was no longer separating us. "I can take you there right now if you want." Without so much as a glance into the back seat - where my other brother and I were sitting - Jesus and my brother walked away and disappeared into the dark.
I was certain that I had just seen the last of him. No good could come of a stranger tapping on a car window during the darkest, the most unsettled hours of the night. Yet we all sat completely immobile. It seemed to me we could have sat there, unmoving, throughout the night, into the next morning and deep into the next day. I'm sure the three of us remaining in the car spoke, but I can't remember what was said.
It seemed as if hours had gone by, yet the sky was still black when again, out of nowhere, a person walked up to the car. My brother. Alone. He opened the driver's side door. Cradled in his hand, like a surgeon gingerly carrying an organ meant for transplant, he held an alternator. The boys got out of the car and went to work under the hood. Then they were finished and my brother turned the key. The engine sounded weak, the patient slowly coming back to life after surgery. The dash lights flickered and died. But the engine eventually turned over and we rolled cautiously out of the parking lot and headed east, back into Utah. We discovered that to keep the car running there could be no dash lights, no radio, no rolling the windows up and down. The Salt Flats stretched out on either side of the road, eerily bone white even in the dark.
As we drove, my brother told us what had happened. I will leave the details for those of us in the car that night. And to Jesus, of course. Suffice to say that after they found the part that was needed, my brother gave him a few bucks and Jesus walked back into the night and disappeared.