On Sunday we were stranded in Ozone Park after coming back from Jones Beach. All that time in the water, hanging by the sand and playing volleyball left us dehydrated. We decided to head for a small Peruvian spot in this part of Queens. If you looked on the surface, it was a descent neighborhood. If you took your time, there were various signs of dilapidation: the paint on the houses were falling off, a couple of sneakers hung on wires, and the street corners had piles of scarcely laid out, garbage, broken glass, and other items not discernible. I had slipped into a mild version of the 80s.
The restaurant had tasty ceviche. The place was small, well-lit, clean, and with many customers. After a glass of sangria and some seafood, I felt rested from the beach. The lemon in the mixed seafood revived me and brought me back into the living world. I was still covered in sand and sunblock, but at least I wasn’t hungry.
On the way back home, while sitting in the car, a man said something to Mig as he was about to open the door. I got out and walked by the front wheel. It was deflated. At first I thought someone purposely stabbed the car, since I didn’t see anything pointy on the floor. The car wasn’t particular new; it was an old van. Upon close inspection, I noticed plenty of broken items on the floor near the left side. It was likely something sharp poked wheel. The wheel was old anyway, and would need to be changed soon. I knew nothing about cars, but I assured myself it would be solved quickly.
Time wasn’t on our side. It was about 8 pm and most of the mechanic shops had closed, at least the ones nearby. We had a spare wheel and no instrument to lift. Mig had an old jack, but it was the last thing he wanted to use. It was too small to lift the weight of a giant van. My naïve expectation of a quick solution was met with the realization of a long tiresome wait in the august wind. It was to be a lazy end to summer. I called tire companies to ask if they could drive out here, but none answered. Later, a resident pointed us to an open mechanic shop a couple blocks away. Mig drove the battered van with the wheel scratching the floor. We dropped to the level of the street, driving turtle slow as the night kept growing.
We stopped at the end of the block. Mig went into the mechanic shop, only to be told they didn’t have a jack. The car was now on the side of a 711. There we waited for something to happen. At that moment, I wished to be Wonder Woman. I could only help by handing Mig some tools, or telling him to drive the car this way or that way. Mig decided to drive the car to the edge, so the left wheel would be exposed in the air, and he could easily take it out. I thought it was a great idea but the wheel was still too close to the bottom floor, and there was no way to lift it further with the small tool. While struggling and debating what to do, cars and people went by, looking, not asking anything, just looking. A big brown van stranded on the curve. It was nothing more than changing a wheel; a simple car fix they thought as they glanced at Mig, crouched down to maneuver the wheel out, and me standing on the side, watching.
A biker passed by and stopped. He didn’t say anything, just looked at the wheel intently. I thought he would keep riding down. He was investigating, assessing the situation. He talked to Mig, asking him about the wheel. Mig told him he was trying to remove it. “ It was punctured.” The guy advised him to move his car a little more on the higher ground, and to continue trying to loosen the large nails. Jose was his name. He tried to help, soon realizing there was no way around it. He was riding a jet-black bike, now standing by a tree. He said he’d have to go to his car to retrieve his jack. It was far away, near his house. He wasn’t sure it would work, since it wasn’t that much bigger, but it was sturdy and new.
We sat there waiting, not knowing if he would come back. He was quiet and calm, not overly forward; he could have changed his mind. Here and there we went back out to try again to no avail. Jose came back and tried adjusting the wheel on the new jack. It worked. As he was unscrewing the large nails of the wheel, he told Mig that in Guatemala, he used to fix trucks, often helping stranded drivers. He said his father told him then, never leave a person helpless on the road. Jose now worked as a manager in a nearby supermarket, and before meeting us on this corner, he had punched out and was heading home. After he finished putting the new wheel, Mig in an impatient gesture offered to repay him. Jose didn’t accept, instead told him to pass it on when he met someone else on the road. Mig shook his hand and left him with a warm smile. “Gracias hermano*.”
* “Thanks brother”