sharing the road home

April 6th, 2016



We were about 300 miles from home in stop-and-go traffic in the middle of the Mohave Desert just inside the state line when the dashboard lit up.

Brake Malfunction!
Stop the vehicle immediately and contact dealer.

It’s trouble enough to be in stop-and-go traffic in the middle of nowhere 300 miles from LA, but the slow homestretch of a Spring Break road trip had just turned from hypnotic boredom into naked terror.

To the touch, the brakes seemed fine, but the failures were spreading. A new light screamed Check ABS/VSC! (Like we knew what that meant.) I flipped through the 400-page owner’s manual for clues. It didn’t tell us anything. We pulled off on the shoulder and checked the emergency brake. Not it. And the brake fluid. Not it. There was nowhere else to get help. So we flowed back onto the crowded road, dash warnings blinking, up the high pass through the San Bernardino mountains and down the steep grades of the San Gabriel mountains, through thicker and faster traffic until we pulled into the driveway and exhaled.

We are lucky to have an honest mechanic in our town, and I stopped by his place the next day. I was surprised he wasn’t there. It had me more worried when no one answered the phone all afternoon, but he answered when I rang in the morning.

Is everything OK? I asked because I knew it wasn’t.

It’s really not.  Last month he was working on a car while the engine was running, and he put his hand where he shouldn’t have, nearly cutting off a finger. Since then he’d been at doctors and hospitals, desperate to save an otherwise useless finger that he thought would cost him his work, his business, his home, and the future. He talked for 30 minutes, and I wanted him to. I wanted to listen and let him be afraid and angry and unsure. I wanted to be more than a customer. I wanted to be a decent human being like him. That’s really what his job is, just being decent, so he said, go ahead and bring the car down and I’ll check it while you wait.

Turns out there was nothing wrong. Maybe a low battery charge in the hybrid engine while we were stalled in traffic caused a bad sensor reading or something that I didn’t really catch the gist of. He wouldn’t let me pay him, but he let me listen while he told me about the hassle of scheduling a blood test before the next surgery, how upset and distracted he felt, and how unfair and impossible things were looking for him today. I believed him.

Let’s just see how it goes, he said then, and it caught my ear. He meant I should drive the car around town and see if the warnings came on but he was pretty sure everything was fine. I said I’d be back to check on him. It didn’t sound like much, but it’s all that decent human beings can do for each other when life is spinning out of control: share the road home.


  1. I hate cars. I have a permanently lit check engine light. It sounds like it took you exactly where you needed to go.

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — April 6, 2016 @ 4:17 pm

  2. You needed each other, and provided for each other. Thanks for the reminder dear Maezen, that maybe every moment of every day could be like that.

    Comment by Clare — April 6, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

  3. Somehow I knew I’d hear from you two decent human beings right away.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 6, 2016 @ 6:51 pm

  4. “let’s just see how it goes”…*I love that you were there for him 🙂

    Comment by Barbara H — April 7, 2016 @ 6:01 am

  5. Maezen,

    These days, it seems that no one wants to “take the time” to be decent. Not sure wtf is going on but it is wearing on me. Manners and grace are at their worst on the internet….I have to remember that. Anyway, I love that you have reminded me how important it is to let people know they impinge on you, that they matter, that a simple thank you goes a long way. Thank you, you dear, wise, wonderful creature. XO

    Comment by Clare — April 7, 2016 @ 6:17 am

  6. Life, this life summed up: Driving down steep hills with the brake warning flashing.

    Comment by MJ — April 7, 2016 @ 6:27 am

  7. Amen.

    Comment by Kim Hiatt — April 7, 2016 @ 6:44 am

  8. Thank you, as always, for a reminder to STOP and listen.
    So often it seems to me that people just need to have someone listen to them.


    Comment by Jude Smith — April 7, 2016 @ 7:15 am

  9. Listening is one of the greatest acts of love.

    Comment by todd — April 7, 2016 @ 11:51 am

  10. I hear you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 7, 2016 @ 12:54 pm

  11. Is everything OK? The reality of what life is! A very particular story about love ! Thank you for your practice Maezen!

    Comment by Rosie — April 11, 2016 @ 12:06 pm

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