I don’t know why I thought it would start. My 13-year-old truck had been sitting in the Fargo North High School parking lot throughout the duration of winter’s coldest weekend yet. It wasn’t just cold. It was bitterly cold, freezing the mercury well below zero for three days straight. Being a nearly lifelong Fargo resident, I don’t know why I thought my car battery would be anything but a frozen block of dead. I guess I was just being optimistic for a change.
About a block away from the parking lot, I dug out my keys and hit the auto-start button. The two-way fob buzzed happily in my hand, confirming that the signal had reached my truck. Unfortunately, five seconds later it buzzed again and flashed an “OFF” message, which I had never seen before. As we turned into the parking and drove up to my clearly not-started truck, I figured out that “OFF” is the AstroStart corporation’s polite way of saying, It’s minus ten, dude. You’re dreaming if you think your car just started.
I looked at my wife, who had kindly driven me up to north Fargo after an already long day, and told her to drop me off and head home with our exhausted five-month-old. He had already passed out in the back seat, and there was no way my wife’s little four-cylinder Subaru was going to jump start my frozen, full-size SUV (even if we could have managed to align the two vehicles so the jumper cables could reach).
Thank God I had AAA… or so I thought.
As I watched my family drive off, I already had AAA on the phone to put in my roadside assistance request. Being this was my third call for help this winter, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve memorized the process—press one for roadside assistance, press one for jump start, gas, or flat tire, please hold while we connect you. To be fair, this was the first time I was calling for my own vehicle.
In each previous case, help arrived within an hour, at which point the local service truck would pull up, jump start the car, and have me (or my friend, rather) on my way within minutes. From phone call to drive-off, it was always a positive customer service experience. This time, however, I was told my wait time could be up to three hours. I hung up in disbelief and would’ve started crying had my tear ducts not still been frozen.
Three hours! What is this, the cable company?
At that point, I started feeling bad for myself, as you do when your Sunday afternoon gets suddenly, coldly ripped away. I fell into the rut of questioning why a capable adult with means would choose to live in a place where at least three months out of the year you can’t leave the house without wearing a layer or two of life-saving apparel. To live in Fargo means to avoid frostbite on a daily basis at minimum from December to February. Here, weather is a legit form of death.
Just as I was about to resign myself to the three-hour wait, two familiar faces walked out of the gym to greet me in the entryway where I had been waiting It had probably been ten or more years since I’d seen these two old high school friends, so it took me a second to recognize the men I had known as boys.
“Hey Ben, what are you doing here?” Josh asked.
“Oh, just waiting for AAA to come jump start my car… figured I’d wait inside instead of in my frozen car,” I replied.
“Want us to jump you? We’ve got cables,” Josh said.
It didn’t matter that we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. It didn’t matter that it was inhumanely cold outside. It didn’t matter that they were exhausted, having just gotten done playing hours of basketball. It didn’t matter. This is Fargo. I could’ve been a stranger, and these two guys would’ve still offered to help me get my car going in -27 degree wind chill. Ultimately, it was a stranger who had to come to our rescue.
Turns out, a four-cylinder Hyundai was about as helpful as my wife’s four-cylinder Subaru. As the three of us stood outside watching our breath freeze and losing sensation in our extremities, a third helpful Fargoan walked up and offered to use his giant diesel truck to get my SUV going. I never even got the guy’s name, but he jumped into action, hooking on his own heavy-duty jumper cables and giving my truck the boost it needed to start.
I barely had enough time to get out of my vehicle before all three guys started to pack up and head out. I couldn’t blame them. It was damn cold, and we’d been outside for about 20 minutes by that point. Interestingly, this may be the most Fargo part of the whole episode.
Just as quickly as these three had offered their help, they were off… back to their own business, barely accepting a handshake in return for their selfless action. And just as quickly, my momentary self-pity about living in such a horrible environment was replaced by a flood of thankfulness.
Sure, sub-zero temperatures (especially during the weekend) make it tough, at times, to love my hometown. But in any other part of the country, I’m not sure I could count on the kindness of old friends and perfect strangers to put their own Sunday on hold to help me get back to mine. So, thank you, Josh, Jon, and stranger, for reminding me why I live here… and may never leave.
Featured image via Flickr user Cathy Stanley-Erickson.