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Crashing into Community

I don’t remember why I decided to drive to work yesterday. I’ve so enjoyed my morning commutes by train: reading two books in the past three weeks … happening into Lori and then Foongi for a friendly catching up … jostling through Union Station to the sound of the Salvation Army brass band. But yesterday my mom was flying into Burbank. And all three of my children + one were home on vacation. And with little school traffic I thought it might be a better drive. So I took my car. I thought about how little I like driving, and missing my train community, and contributing to the oil economy. But still I drove. So I cursed when I crashed.

“Oh shit, I just had an accident,” I said when I realized I had plowed into the car in front of me. I was on speaker phone with my son who was urging me to get home quickly. I had glanced away to check my mirror or the street name or my Waze app or something and when I looked back, and the line of cars in front of me had stopped. I couldn’t slam on the brakes fast enough to compensate for the downhill I was on. CRASH.

There was enough force to push into two cars and shatter my grill but no airbags went off. And the two drivers ahead of me looked okay. They didn’t want me to call the police or 911 … just exchange information for insurance. After an infinite 15 minutes, they each drove off while I called the tow truck. My radiator was hissing and fluid had spilled out.

So much for a relaxing holiday, I thought. Way to spend Christmas Eve eve. The tow truck came in a quick 20 minutes. Thank you Triple A. Luis, the driver, tried to open my hood, and when it stuck gave me the best assessment he could.

“It’s probably your radiator and air conditioner,” he said. “The fluid feels like freon.” He hooked up my car and as we drove he called a few shops for me to see if anyone was open. He called a salvage yard he knew that offered to buy my car for $300 in case I decided not to fix it. The damages would surely be over half the value of my 10 year old car. I asked him to take the car and me home, so I could think about what to do.

At the corner of Alvarado and Glendale, Luis opened my passenger window and yelled out, “I’ll take two!” He handed a $5 bill to a man who passed us two thin Santa hats with small red lights lining the white band.

“There you are,” he said as he handed me one of the hats and put his on. “To make your day a little easier.” It worked. We talked about Echo Park where he lived and Eagle Rock where I lived and Fox Hills Mall in Culver City where his girlfriend liked him to take her to shop. We sang out loud to What A Wonderful World and American Pie. I couldn’t imagine a cheerier tow truck trip.

When I got home, the kids and my mom all came out to check on me and Luis unhooked my car. I thanked him and we exchanged numbers in case I wanted to take him up on his offer to tow my car for free to the salvage yard and we said good-bye. Mom ordered Thai takeout and we lit all the Menorah candles for the last night of Chanukah. I slept soundly but sorely as muscles began to unwind from being locked in shock.

This morning, Tori and Kiran brought Goldie over for us to dog-sit while they visit family. I retold my crash for big hugs and got a referral to their mechanic. I filed an insurance claim and called around to the auto shops for advice. When all the mechanics told me I needed a body shop, I found one listed one block from my house. I knew the shop but had never had reason to visit.

“Is there any chance you could come to my house, one block away, so I don’t have to call a tow truck to find out whether you can fix my car?” I asked Paul when he answered.

“I can do that,” he said. “But first why don’t you send me a few pictures so I can get an idea of what is wrong.” I sent him a few photos of my smashed up car and a few minutes later he called to say he would be right over.

Paul came to my house and studied my car, assuring me the engine was going to be fine, and that the main damage was in the radiator and grill.

“This isn’t that bad,” he said. I immediately felt better. “I’ll send you an estimate over e-mail in an hour.” He called me an hour later to explain the estimate and let me know he could work on it the day after Christmas. “It’ll take four days to fix.” All I had to do is decide whether the car was worth the amount it will cost to fix.

“Someone left you cookies and a bottle of wine on your porch,” My daughter’s boyfriend said when he came back into the house after leaving for work.

“Really?” I asked. Then, “Dustin, did you do that?” He had been worried about me the night before when I got home from the accident.

“No, really, I swear,” Dustin said as we all followed him outside. Grace held up the tag.

“From Phaedra and Jim and Cooper and Lucas,” Grace read. That’s when I remembered that Phaedra had texted me the day before to say they were leaving something on our porch. They were our neighbors, but also longtime friends from graduate school.

“Wow,” I said. “It is so nice to feel taken care of.” And thanks to all the people who went out of their way in the past 24 hours, I truly do feel taken care of.