Tuesday, July 28, 2009

An Irish Holiday

I thought I couldn’t be anymore smitten with the Irish than I already was. Then today happened.

The friends who offered to let me stay in their home this summer were returning from a month-long holiday yesterday, and over the weekend they emailed me to ask me to make sure their van would start, since they would need it to carry their luggage from the bus stop. I tried it, and the battery was dead.

No bother. I called the generous landlords to see if they could help me jump it. They were on holiday.

No bother. I knocked on the door of one of the many taxis that sit along my bustling street yesterday morning to see if he could jump my car. However, not only did he not have jumper cables, but the taxi company had a policy against it. He pointed out that there was a mechanic on the little side street by my house, and I made plans to go there after class. There would be plenty of time before my friends returned that evening.

After class, I went to the mechanic. It was closed. As I stood there helplessly trying to come up with my next plan of action in this failing mission to get the van started in the next couple hours before my friends returned, a young man poked his head out of the internet cafe next door distractedly and asked me if I needed help. Boy did I ever.

After I explained the situation to him, it suddenly became his personal mission to get my friends’ van started. “I don’t have jumper cables, but I might no someone who does. Come inside.”

I followed him to the backroom where he explained my situation to his older co-worker. Suddenly my plight became both of their personal missions, and after they determined that neither they nor their boss had cables, they discussed the feasibility of a push-start.

“We’ll need some more people,” they mused at the description of the bulky 15-passenger van, “but we can do it. Lead the way.”

As we rounded the corner to my street, the busiest road in Cork along which the van was parked, the older fellow barked into the open door of a pub, “Hey, come here. We need your help.”

“Aw Paddy...” the young guy sipping his pint at the counter complained.

“None of that. Come on,” he ordered, and the young man acquiesced, trialed by a young woman. The neighborhood was in on the fun. Adrenalin was running, and it was clear that Irish treat push-starts like an instant holiday sort of like snow-days back home in the American South.

With five people gathered on the busy street around my friends’ van that I was not insured to drive, the situation had spun far out of my control, and I could simply join the gang, hoping the guy in the drivers’ seat would hit his breaks before the van hit the car parked in front.

When it became clear that we would not be able to achieve the required speed between the parked cars, the men decided we would push it onto the street when there was a break in the traffic. They laughed at me when I acted nervous about the idea, so I stopped protesting.

Still no go. “It’s fooked,” they concluded, and parked the van illegally beside the road.

“I’ll go to my brother’s and see if he has jumper cables,” the original guy from the internet cafe offered. “You’ll need to sit tight in the van so it won’t get towed. I’ll be back in 20 minutes.”

What could I do? I poked my head in the house to get my Greek books, and began my homework in the driver’s seat, wondering what I would do if the stranger never returned.

But true to his word, he did return, though without coming up with jumper cables.

“You know who might have them?” he asked, and directed me to another shop across the bridge, telling me to ask the owner if I could simply borrow the cables, bring them back to the internet cafe, and return them after starting the car. Wondering how quickly the van would get towed while parked illegally on the busiest street in Cork, I ran to the shop.

It was closed.

Feeling bad about how long the ordeal had already taken but needing to move the van as quickly as possible, I returned to the cafe.

“No-go; it’s closed. Tell you what, can you just give me the number of a mechanic or something who could drive out here and jump the car?”

“I could do that...” he began, until he had a burst of inspiration and bolted out the door after someone who had just walked out. Again, he explained my plight, and again the man did not have jumper cables.

“I do have a rope,” he mused. “I could tow your van a bit; we could probably get enough speed for a push-start that way. Tell me, does it have any battery at all, like?”

So there I sat in the passenger seat with the internet-cafe-stranger behind the wheel of my friends’ van that I was not insured to drive while the next stranger connected our cars and pulled out onto the busiest road in Cork. Finally, the car started.

As the internet-cafe-stranger stepped out of the van and I slid over to take the wheel and navigate the maze of narrow Irish city roads in a 15-passenger van back to where I could legally park, I tried to thank him for his two hours of help.

“Not a bother,” he brushed me off. “Make sure to drive around a bit before you turn it off to make sure it charges up, like. You should be grand.”

And with that he was gone, with the indifferent nonchalance he might have shown if he had just helped me tie my shoe.

I realized after he was gone that we had never even so much as exchanged names.

(Incidentally, when my friends returned and I told them the saga, they informed me that there had been jumper cables in their back seat all along. But if I had known that, I would have missed out on yet another example of why I love the Irish.)


Kate said...

Fabulous story!! I'm so glad you're having such a great time - and especially that you're sharing your experiences with us.

Anonymous said...

That's kinda why I love the South.
It's a kinder, gentler, human-er world, but not without grit.

Cliff said...


Benjamin said...

Wow :-) I like the towing-the-van-with-the-rope bit.