When AAA tells you you've used up all of your allotted emergency rescues, you know it's time to get a new car.
When Chicago's finest boot your car for $1300 in unpaid parking tickets, you know it's time to get a new car.
When your key has been stuck in the ignition for three years and, despite parking in the crappiest locations possible, no one steals it, you know it's time to get a new car.
And yet, we haven't gotten a new car.
Who knows if that would've mattered the other day when my car's rear left wheel deflated faster than a water bra at a pocketknife convention. But what does matter is that the good people of my city - recently voted the third best city in the U.S. and Canada, according to Travel + Leisure magazine - came to my rescue in a most wonderful and unexpected way.
It began as I pulled out of my parking spot, heading to the dry cleaners around the corner. (hey, A++ Cleaners!) A woman in a white car caught my eye, embarked on the infamous "roll down your window" motion and pointed to what was, apparently, a very flat tire. She had a look of urgent concern mixed with pity on her face but I thought, "How bad could it be?" Silly woman. So I hung a right and pulled up the magical place that makes my husband's and my shirts clean and April-fresh. I gathered up our garments and was about to take a look at the tire when I turned to find a sunglassed bike messenger staring me in the face.
"Your tire is dead. I can hear it scraping against the street a mile away."
Sweet. I got out, loaded up with shirts and dresses, and confronted what was possibly the deadest dead tire ever. My heart sank.
But then the kindheartedness that defines the Midwest started peeking out from every corner and I was saved by my city.
First, the owner of the dry cleaners walked out, her arms open wide, asking for my stuff and telling me to just pay later. Also, I got two Dum-Dum suckers to help pass the time.
Then the bike messenger asked if I had a spare (miraculously, I did) and practically sang, "I've got some time. I can fix it for you." And up the jack went.
Then a gentleman in an SUV pulled over and offered us the use of his portable air compressor. It was like money raining from the sky...and a good thing, because the lug wrench I had stashed in my trunk was apparently incompatible with the tire Bike Messenger Savior Man was trying to extricate from my mess of a car.
So the men - strangers, mind you - worked together to inflate the tire (Bonus: I now know how to jack up a car and operate a 12 Volt cigarette lighter-adaptable air compressor). The SUV man used his GPS system to locate the nearest mom-and-pop tire shop.
I got the emails of the two Good Samaritans so I could thank them, then the bike messenger and I talked a bit about his upcoming grad school endeavors. Like some sort of bizarre auto apparition, a AAA truck passed by on the street and asked if I was OK. I was - my car easily made the two-block trip to the repair shop and I had a new tire affixed and ready to roll within an hour.
The whole experience could have been much worse - I could have blown a tire on the expressway at night - but it was made infinitely better by the (cliche, I know) kindness of strangers. To Nadeen and HaulinAss, thank you for rescuing me. May good karma rain down on you like the red and orange autumn leaves that will soon blanket Michigan Avenue. To Chicago, thanks for producing so many fine, upstanding citizens - truly. And to my 1999 Mercury Cougar, with your mishmash of parts, stuck ignition key and propensity to attract meter maids, it's been a wild ride, but I think your time has come.