I started writing this article from a tire shop in Arcata.

This is the second year we have been invited to be a part of the Humboldt Obon Festival. The festival was started by a group of community organizers who wanted to share some of their cultural heritage. San Jose Taiko has been working with them to organize a taiko group. As they planned for the Obon Festival, last year some of them knew of the Buddhist roots of Obon. They asked Taiko if they knew anyone who might be able to conduct a service. Taiko said sure we know somebody. That’s how we got involved. This year they wanted to observe a Hatsubon Service.

Last year we were late leaving San Jose. I have to admit that part of the reason I wanted to go to Arcata was that we would pass through Willits on the way up. I had often thought of going to Willits but a eight hour round trip field trip kept being pushed back in the queue of things to do. My interest in the town of Willits is the workshop of shakuhachi maker Monty Levenson in the hills just outside of Willits. Going to the Humboldt Obon gave us the opportunity to meet the Levensons. But that year because we were running late our visit was cut short.

This year we started early and arrived in Willits at our scheduled time. We arrived at Monty’s workshop without getting too lost but then made a poor decision to go up the wrong road then another bad decision that led to getting stuck in the soft shoulder of the road. Monty came with his truck and chain. He reassured us that this happens often. I was grateful for his understanding. It would not be the last time that we would be reminded of the kindness of others.

We spent about an hour getting the car back on solid ground. We now, again, like last year, were running late. We had a wonderful visit with the Levensons but it was time to head back down the hill and be on our way to Arcata. We deftly negotiated the route as we merged onto Highway 101. Traveling along fields and forests we passed through the town of Laytonville. The front end of the car began to make a funny noise. Never a good thing. We pulled over onto a large patch of gravel at the intersection of Hwy 101 and County Road 307. The right front tire was shredded. We let people in Arcata know we would be delayed and called AAA.

Our call to AAA was made at around 5:12 (that’s pretty precise because of the cell phone record). They were very nice and said they were sending a truck from Ukiah which would arrive at 6:50. Seemed like a long time but we were on a stretch of highway with little behind us even less ahead of us. 6:50 came and went. Fifteen minutes passed the expected arrival time we called AAA. They apologized and said their drivers were “out of hours” and would not be coming. They suggested we could do one of two things 1) wait and see if they could find another service who would tow us to a yard or 2) find transportation, leave our keys in the car and leave the car alongside of the road to be picked the next morning by AAA. At around 8:00 we welcomed the offer from Arcata to come pick us up and bring a Prius spare. It would be a four hour round trip through a pitch black night for our drivers.

The Prius Prime is an excellent commuter car but it does not have a spare tire.

As Kathy and I sat, first waiting for AAA then trying to figure out our options we met a remarkable number of people who stopped to see how we were doing and if we needed help. Some cars heading in one direction made a U-turn and pulled next to us to see if we were ok. There was the young man with dreadlocks that got out of his truck to walk over to us. Officer Sousa of the CHP checked in on us three times. There was the couple with their dogs, still damp from swimming with them in their pond who offered a much appreciated bathroom break. When Matt stopped to offer help he said he felt guilty when he passed us a couple of hours before. Now seeing us still there he pulled over to offer help. He said he had some tires at his business a mile up the road. He looked at the kind of tire we had then went to see if he might have one that might fit. He came back and apologized for not having a matching tire. By then we were seriously considering asking Arcata to come get us. Matt said if when they arrived we needed help or any tools he was right up the road and was usually up past 1:00 watching tv. And besides he said this was more “funner” than watching tv. He gave us his phone number and drove up the road.

It was getting dark and the stars were starting to come out. The Big Dipper filled nearly a quarter of the sky. The Milky Way was beginning to emerge. The Perseids meteor shower would not be visible for at least another couple of hours.

Our rescuers arrived around 10 p.m.: Rees, one of our hosts in Arcata and Franco of Taiko. The jack wouldn’t fit under the frame on the flat side of the car. Rees put another jack under the other side of the car and was able to lift it enough so that Franco could get a jack under his side of the car. Officer Sousa had returned and helped put more light on the work area. The shredded tire was removed and with the spare put in place we headed into the darkness. Franco drove our car with Kathy and I rode with Rees. Traveling at 50 miles an hour because of the spare it would be two more hours before we reached Arcata. Lots of time for conversation and stories.

People are generous. It was truly amazing how many people stopped to see if we were ok and asked if we needed help. An act of kindness that reached through any differences we might have and opened up our shared humanity.