Island Adventure: the Kindness of Strangers

Last week we visited Tangier Island, Virginia, in the Chesapeake Bay. I’ll write another post about our time on the island once I have my photos uploaded. But right now, I want to write about car trouble.

The plan was for my mother to drive up to our house last Tuesday morning. That afternoon, we would pack up her car (because it is bigger than ours) and drive down together to Reedville, Virginia, where we would stay the night at a motel and then drive to the nearby marina first thing in the morning to catch the ferry to the island, leaving Mom’s car there at the marina. Visitors cannot take cars to the island; in fact, few locals have them there. The island is small, with narrow roads. People get around by walking, biking, riding a scooter, or driving a golf cart.

Tuesday, my mom was late. She texted to say she was having car trouble. A warning light told her a tire was leaking, so she had to stop at a service station and have it fixed. The verdict: there was nothing wrong with the tire, only with the sensor that made the light come on. She arrived at our house hours late, but we still had plenty of time to reach the motel in Reedville, so we headed out.

Halfway there we stopped for dinner. When we got back into the car afterward, it refused to start. The engine wouldn’t even turn over. My mom went back into the restaurant for help, and a man came out with a device to charge the battery without having to attach it to another car. The car started up, and we were on our way, resolved not to stop again until we reached the motel.

My mother was concerned that the car wouldn’t start in the morning. When we checked in, we told the hotel desk clerk, and she lent us her jumper cables. She said she wouldn’t be working in the morning when we left, but that we should just leave her jumper cables in the room. She told us the property manager would be staffing the desk in the morning, and that she would help us out however she could.

Morning came, and the manager was not there yet. The ferry would leave the marina at 10 am, and there would not be another one, so we had to get there. And again, the car refused to start. We were running low on time, so when the woman staying in the next room offered us a ride to the marina, we took her up on it, deciding we would just have to figure out something about getting the car fixed.

Again, we relied on the kindness of strangers. My mother explained the situation to the man in the ticket booth for the ferry. And he jumped into action, calling everyone he knew who worked at a local garage, until he found a place that agreed to send a truck to tow the car from the motel to the garage and see if it could be fixed by the time we returned from the island. Mom left her key with the ticket seller, and he told the guy at the garage to pick it up from him before going to the motel to tow the car.

On the ferry, we realized that the ticket seller was actually the ferry boat captain. We took the 90-minute ferry trip to Tangier, and later my mother called the garage and heard that her car had, indeed, been towed there.

On the island, the next saga in our car-repair adventure involved getting it fixed in time for our return trip on Saturday. This was made more complicated by the fact that internet and cell phone access on Tangier are intermittent. But my mother eventually did get word that the car needed a new battery, and that the work would be completed by Saturday. The next obstacle was figuring out how we would get the car on Saturday, when the garage would be closed. Eventually, we worked out a solution.

On the ferry ride home Saturday, we met several friendly people. One man offered to drive two of us to the garage on arrival so we could pick up the car. Bob and my mother went, while Jon Morgan and I stayed at the marina with all of our luggage. When they arrived at the garage, they found the car parked just where they’d been told it would be: parked beside a tractor. They found my mother’s car key hidden where the garage owner had told her it would be: in a compartment under the seat of the tractor. The new battery started up with no problem, and my mother and husband drove the car back to the ferry marina to pick up my son and me and all of our luggage.

And then we headed home.

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