She opened the gate...

Last night, we were on our way to Brittany. It was getting very late and we still were 200 kms away from home.

We were tired and getting hungry... We knew that in Laval, we’d be able to grab a bite without loosing too much time. There is a McDonald’s close to the freeway.

Yes, I know. We usually are not too fanatic about burgers. Too French, I imagine but at 10 p.m. and with a car overloaded with all sort of stuff, it was wiser and easier to go to a McDrive.

Our problem was to find the McDonald’s outlet. We got off the freeway and went hunting for food.

Finding McDonald’s was harder than we expected. We started to drive around a very dreary area... Warehouses, bus depots, workshops, etc.

We were getting discouraged when all of a second, the car started to sound weird and to feel really weird. That’s how a philistine like me describes a flat tire...

Popeye parked on a very large sidewalk in front on a warehouse. No one in sight. Lost. We were lost. We were lost in an industrial park, somewhere close to Laval.

Flat tire indeed. The left rear wheel. Very flat tire in a few seconds. Weird, really weird since our car is a SUV with quite new and very sturdy tires.

I have to tell you one thing before carrying on with my story. Popeye is a fabulous sailor. He is a very good driver too.

But when it comes to boat or car maintenance, well, it’s much better to resort to a specialist. Which is not a bad thing at all. That’s what specialists are for.

We were standing close to the car which was filled with all sort of stuff we were moving from Brussels to Brittany and we were feeling quite dispirited.

‘Well, I guess I’ll have to get to work now.’ Popeye said with a shrug.

We started moving our stuff around to free the spare tire and the jack. Some ended up on the sidewalk.

I handed the instructions booklet to Popeye.

It was freezing outside - 4°C and we were not really wearing the right clothes either.

It did not take him very long to start untightening the screws but when he got to the point he had to use the jack, things started to look real bad.

I mean that we were hopelessly stuck with a jack that wasn’t working very well... Bad workers always blame their tools. I know.

I was looking around, trying to come up with an idea - how to find a mechanic this late and in the middle of nowhere.

And in the middle of nowhere (again), I noticed a gate and a bell on a high wall that could belong to a house. House. Humans. Help.

I rang the bell and waited close to the entry phone.

I was feeling bad - it was late and if people were there, they were probably asleep. And I was feeling even worse, very egoistically - what if no one was home after all? What if this was not a house but offices? Hard to tell in the darkest night ever! Well, anyway, the enclosing wall was very high.

After a couple of minutes (as long as one hour for my worried and tired brain), a woman answered. She sounded very young.

I explained to her what had happened. I said that we were stranded very close to her gate and that we needed help to find a mechanic. She said that she’d come out right away.

I really was flabbergasted. You want to know why? Well, honestly, we really were in the middle of nowhere. She had no way to know that I was telling the truth. So I kind of doubted that she would come out.

Well, she opened the gate and there she was. Smiling. A very petite woman. She said right away that her husband was not home, meaning that he would have helped Popeye to fix the tire.

I couldn’t help thinking: ‘Please, lady, don’t mention to anyone this easily that you are alone at home. It’s so late. For goodness sake...’

But she looked quite at ease and not worried at all.

When we told her we needed to call whatever mechanic who’d accept to come and change our tire... at 11:00 p.m, she said that she did not know who could be available right away but she’d go back to her house and give a couple of calls.

She left (without closing the gate behind her). She came back a few minutes later with a big smile on her face. There was a mechanic still working this late in Laval. She gave us his phone number. She told us exactly where we were - so that the man would find us very easily.

Then she told us that she had to go back in because her daughter was sick. ‘Do you want to come with me?’ she said to me. ‘It is so cold tonight.’

I thanked her profusely but I wanted to stay with Popeye.

One last thank you. One last smile and she went back home and closed her gate. ‘If you change your mind, you know you only have to ring the bell.’

The mechanic arrived 10 mns later. It took him a little bit more than 5 minutes to change the tire! Popeye was filled with admiration. Except that two seconds after the guy left, he said: ‘Wow. Have you seen his jack?’

Yes, the man had a hydraulic jack and it really did make a difference! So I know what we’ll start carrying around in our trunk from now on... except that if we do that, there won’t be much room left for our stuff!

This was a great experience after all. Finding someone ready to help us did not really surprise us because we like to help people (tit for tat, so to say).

But we both were amazed that the lady had opened her door so easily to total strangers. Because as soon as we were stranded in this very lonely and forsaken place, with our all stuff on the sidewalk, we kept thinking that we were bound to end up mugged every time a car drove by.

We were craving for help but we felt oh so relieved whenever we’d spot a car that its driver would not even slow down and that he’d drive away.

I guess this is the big and awful difference between 'big city' dwellers and provincials. So sad that we become instinctively so distrustful and fearful whenever we find ourselves in a difficult position.

But the lady had opened her gate...
Great, great lesson.

We managed to get to Les Tertres safely. Very late but safely.

This morning, we realized that we know her address (more or less) but not her name. I wanted so bad to send her a thank you note.

Well, next time we notice someone stranded somewhere, we’ll stop.  Trying not to think that it may be a trap which it hopefully won’t be.

Great lesson. Great lesson indeed.

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