During these slow, hot days of August I’ve been thinking back to small and large life events that have left a lasting impression on me. When this particular one popped into my head, I thought “Yes. This is a story to tell.”
It was August 2008. We were on the road driving our son Will towards his freshman year in college. On the second day of driving, we had been on the road for almost four hours when I felt it. And heard it. First there was the explosive bang, then the telltale thumpthumpthumpthump. The front right tire had just blown out. My adrenaline was pumping of course, but even more so because I happened to be driving 65 mph on the highway. I wondered whether the thumping could actually be my heart which was racing. I navigated over to the right lane and maneuvered over to the shoulder. Just like that we were motionless on I-70 somewhere towards the eastern half of Pennsylvania.
Confirming that we were all safe, we took a moment to assess. I looked into the rearview mirror and groaned. I was looking at the mountain of Will’s duffel bags, bins, boxes, clothes on hangers, a large lamp and one unopened bedding-in-a-bag. The spare lay beneath some of it.
We got out to start the unpacking process when a roadside emergency assistance vehicle randomly pulled up.
“Good morning” the driver began. “We are not equipped to assist with the flat tire but we can set up safety flares and call it in for you” he informed us.
“OK, that would be great” my husband Dennis replied.
The wait time was going to be about an hour. It was going to take a while anyway to unpack and precariously place my son’s new life by the side of the highway while cars whipped and whooshed by blowing hot wind in our direction.
Dennis felt better if he could do something while we waited, so he found the spare and lug wrench and got to work. Or tried to. Both he and Will were having difficulty loosening the lug nuts with the wrench. It seemed like the nuts had grown deep metal roots right into the center of the wheel disc. They were not budging.
Only 15 minutes had passed when a car pulled up behind us. It was an old, silver DeLorean. The DeLorean car was made famous not only by its eccentric inventor John DeLorean who founded the DeLorean Motor Company, but it is also recognizable as the time travel machine (with a little retrofitting) that was used in the movie “Back To The Future.”
As we watched, the famous gull wing doors rose up high and a man emerged wearing a Harley Davidson t-shirt and cowboy boots.
Will and I instinctively stepped back from the pile we had stacked up on the grass, creating a distance between ourselves and the man. (Will later told us that he had pulled his cellphone out of his pocket and held it if it became necessary to use it.)
“Hi, I’m Ronnie” he began. “It looks like you need some help.” Dennis shook his hand and replied “thanks for stopping, but roadside assistance has been by and help is coming soon.”
“Well, I’m here, so why don’t I take a look” he replied and bent down by the tire. Dennis explained about the stubborn lug nuts. We nervously looked at each other while he took the wrench, attached it to a lug nut and positioned his boot on the bar of the wrench. In one swift movement, he transferred all his weight onto the bar. The lug nut went flying. In less than three minutes, using the boot method, the lug nuts were off. He asked Dennis for help with the spare.
As they held the spare and assumed a kneeling position at the end of the axle, Ronnie suddenly turns towards Dennis and asks “Have you accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior?”
Now I don’t care what religion anyone may choose to follow, there are many paths to finding God and universal truths. And I can share one of those truths now. If a stranger asks you that question when you have a flat tire by the side of a highway in an unfamiliar state, you say “yes.”
“Yes I have” Dennis responds immediately.
Ronnie nods and proclaims “Let’s pray.” As I watched them bow their heads, I’m pretty sure they are praying for different things.
When his work is done, Ronnie stands to leave. “Please let me pay you” Dennis insists, but Ronnie waves it off. “Give it to a charity or pay it forward” he suggests and he walks back towards the DeLorean, his boots clicking on the pavement. The wings rise once again, then slowly come down and Ronnie is gone.
I think we were all quiet for a moment, taking it in. First, we were now free to get back on the road and we were grateful. We also felt a little sheepish that we hadn’t trusted him. He was only a kind soul who liked helping others.
But really, there was something else it had touched on. We believe in God, but we are not overtly religious. We do not attend church services regularly. If we were asked Ronnie’s question in the middle of a Target parking lot, we would have kept walking. We aren’t entirely comfortable with people who wear their faith on their sleeves and want to share it with you. We feel that finding and living your faith is more of a personal journey.
I will say that I have always believed that everything happens for a reason. I 1000% believe that. So, here in this most random of moments, in this most random of places, a silver DeLorean touches down from nowhere, at our exact moment of need and the driver’s only request is that we pray with him and that we help others. And for that price, he quite literally frees us. I’m a pretty good cynic, but the unfolding and message of the moment demands some thought.
“Did something just happen here that we were supposed to experience?” I can’t help but ask myself.
I can’t really answer that, but it felt… different. I do know that even if it was all just a coincidence and only an interesting story, Ronnie was, at the very least, our good Samaritan/guardian angel that day. But it will always be interesting to believe, that maybe, he was something more.
We got back on the road and arrived safely at Will’s school while driving on the spare. We stayed an extra day to replace the tire. As we turned the car west, I sort of smiled wondering whether we’d spot a silver DeLorean on our return trip. We did not. In fact, I have never seen a DeLorean, with its raised wings, anywhere ever again.