Today, we left LA. Driving north on Fair Oaks Blvd from South Pasadena to Pasadena. We were in search of a fair gas station. The 76 gas station was behind us, so we turned around at the next available street. Harvey sounded so good. All we needed was gas and we would be on our way to Santa Barbara.
That pump on the end, next to the exit, was ours. The ticker started climbing as Harvey devoured a plethora of plus fuel. “Well, you sure are hungry”, I told him.
“Must be fun.” The woman on the other side of the pump said as admired Harvey.
“All that freedom in an RV, it must be fun.”
“No strings attached, but it has its drawbacks.” I smiled and nodded my head.
“Absolutely. We love him though.”
She was a teacher. High School Special Education. I thanked her for her service and hopped back in Harvey, turned the key, and heard the solenoid clink. The gas gauge rose with fervour. What a beautiful sight. I passed the $94 receipt back to Brad to log with the others and my eyes returned to the dash. The gas gauge had stopped at halfway. “What? This cannot be true…”
I remembered a similar problem in Phoenix and a mechanic told me how to fix it. Hopping down from the driver’s seat, I squatted behind Harvey’s rear tires. I scooted on my stomach to the back gas tank, passing under the shattered remains of what used to be our black water tank. For those of you who know very little about RVs (which was us only months ago), the black water tank retains all the shit. Quite literally.
I made it under the rear gas tank unscathed, but found that it would be much easier on my back to reach the electrical switch that I had been told about.
My father has always told me that my uncle and I got our broad shoulders from their father. So as I tried to turn over, you can imagine the discomfort that I soon found myself in. Stuck between a warm rear axle, a gas tank, and the hot cement with a sleeveless shirt, I pondered my predicament for about 10 seconds. I gave into my pestering thoughts of retreating to the side of the RV, past the black water tank. Quickly, I scooted and flipped over. I then returned to the gas tank and fiddled with the electrical connection. Scooting out, once again, I shuffled to the driver’s door. Clink. The solenoid. Now the gas gauge was at 0. I repeated this process four more times until I was satisfied with it reading only half. Let’s go to Santa Barbara.
Only a few turns and we were breaching Highway 134. This would soon turn into the 101, which we would take all the way to Santa Barbara. The onramp changed forms, becoming an upramp, which has always been a struggle for Harvey. I relived the terrifying moments that Brad and I had spent travelling 45 mph on I-10 West to reach Tucson and Phoenix. I recounted the chant that I recited to myself: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” We reached 40 mph. The top of the hill was close, sun beaming at us from the west. 43 mph. Two cars skirted around us and changed back into our lane. 45 mph. “I think I can, I think I can.” The gas pedal began to give out. Harvey sputtered as he approached his apparent max of 49 mph. Brad turned to me as I smiled and said, “That wasn’t me.”
“Is it doing it again?” Brad asked.
The gas gauge dropped to a quarter tank and our once galloping speed of 49 mph dwindled as we took the nearest exit.
“Can we take backroads to Santa Barbara?” Brad asked. I laughed because I knew he was being facetious to lighten the mood.
“We are only 5 miles from our last mechanic. We have to stay here.” I gently gripped the steering wheel as we turned across an overpass and through a light.
The road meandered through the neighborhood that lies directly east of the Rose Bowl. Large hills, green lawns, an abundance of bright red stop signs. Arroyo Seco came into view and I remembered exploring the street on my bike a week prior. We wandered the curves for a couple streets until a moderately inclined hill appeared to our right.
There was an incline. A stop sign. Then another incline. Then the top of the hill. I think I can.
25 mph to the stop sign. A lady in a purple SUV pulled up behind us. She would also have to go 25 mph. 5 mph across the intersection. 10 mph as we reached the second incline…and stop goes Harvey’s engine. I immediately pulled the hazard lights tab and slammed on the breaks. Harvey wouldn’t stop moving backward. I stood up on the brake pedal, rising out of the driver’s seat to apply more pressure. Slowly, the whining breaks brought him to a halt and my left foot locked in the emergency brake.
The purple SUV began to creep up the second incline, but slowed to mirror our position on the street. The woman rolled down her passenger window with an expression of concern. After all, what would you think if you witnessed a 28’ RV suddenly turn on its emergency lights while attempting to climb a moderately sized hill?
She began to say, “Would you like some h–.” Before the word “help” could flow from her lips, a very impatient mercedes honked its horn. I told the woman “Thank you, but we’ll be fine.” She smiled and continued on, and as the mercedes drove by, I peered into the eyes of the driver. She was wearing all white in her white Mercedes with black headphones in and a stern look of entitlement across her brow. I imagined her scoffing at us for blocking ‘her’ lane. It was not evident that she was in a rush either. She wanted life to remain convenient for her. Both Brad and I sat in awe.
After some thinking, deliberation, and a call to the mechanic, we decided it was best to back down the hill into the intersection and then continue backing up on the driver’s side of the perpendicular street. Brad suited up with our Passion Impact vest (conveniently a neon yellow reflective worker’s vest). We waited until there were no cars and we hopped on the opportunity. 3 mph, 5 mph, 7 mph, 3 mph, stop. We were now in the middle of the intersection. I applied the brakes too soon and our back left tires rolled into a divot in the road.
For the next 20 minutes, over 100 cars drove through the intersection as we pushed, pulled, turned, inspected and danced with Harvey. To our amazement, only one other car asked if we needed help. Even a runner who jogged by readjusted his headphones to make certain that we were not to disturb him. We weren’t soliciting help, but could have definitely used it. I thought about those 20 minutes all day. What about the flipped version of that scenario where I drive up next to a car or an RV that is obviously struggling?
While still in Austin, Brad, Mel, and I helped fix a man’s tire after seeing him and his friends in need on a side street. But now we were in the middle of an intersection, in need of the same assistance. Yet, barely anyone took action to help. I ask my next question merely to focus on the behavior and motivation of the passing individuals and not to bring about a self-pity party (Brad and I still had fun, after all):
Why didn’t anyone help strangers clearly in need?