Dwight Yoakum played on the radio as we headed west on Interstate 40. It was hot … even by Mojave Desert standards. The thermometer on my dashboard read 120 degrees Fahrenheit (about 49 degrees Celsius). “Thank God for air conditioning,” I thought.

We were headed home after a weekend on the Colorado River. My three kids were sleeping in the backseat, and my wife, Lisa, tapped away on her phone. I tried to focus on the road ahead as I sipped on a lukewarm cup of coffee. “This is going to be a long trip.”

The highway snaked through the Piute Mountains and disappeared into the low-hanging sun before us. My mind wandered as I gazed across the horizon. Clusters of cholla cactus stretched out in each direction, as far as I could see.

Out of range

oLD PHONE BOOTH in MojaveIn that moment, I felt the engine shudder, bringing me back to reality. I tried to ignore it, but a few minutes later, it happened again. “Something’s wrong,” I said aloud. I looked down at my temperature gauge, and it was pegged to the right. The engine was overheating.

I pulled over and turned the engine off.

When I popped open the hood, I could hear the radiator make a hissing sound. Something was definitely wrong. How could we be overheating when my truck had only 20,000 miles (32,187 kilometres) on it? I unscrewed the radiator cap and steam rushed out, filling the air.

“Lisa, you better call a tow truck!”

I leaned against the front of my truck and tried to figure out what to do. Apparently, we were out of cell phone range. I thought maybe I could hitchhike back to town, or maybe I could get cell service if I hiked to the top of a hill. Neither idea seemed to be a very appealing solution.

Just then, I noticed an old car pull over a few hundred yards ahead of me. It had faded silver paint, and one of the fenders was coated in black primer. “That poor guy must be overheating too,” I thought. Then I saw the backup lights turn on.

I called out to my two boys, who were still sleeping in the truck. “Get out here! It looks like we have company.”

“Do you need some help?”

Broken down car in desertAs I watched the car move towards us, it suddenly occurred to me that we might get robbed. Maybe this guy was some kind of highway bandit. The car swerved back and forth as it drove in reverse, creating clouds of dust each time the rear wheel left the pavement. “This guy isn’t very good at backing up,” I said.

When the car was about 10 yards (about 9 metres) away, it stopped. A slender man with tanned skin and thick black hair jumped out and walked towards us. He wore a red baseball cap that was tilted back and slightly off-centre. Dark sweat rings covered his long-sleeved shirt.  I guessed that he didn’t have air conditioning.

“Do you need some help?” he asked in a thick accent.

“I think I have a hole in my radiator. I need a tow truck.”

“Do you want some antifreeze?” he asked.

“I don’t think it will help. I’m pretty sure it’s a hole in the radiator or a busted hose. My truck only has 20,000 miles.”

I watched as he fished around in the trunk of his car and pulled out a large plastic bottle.  “Let’s give it a try,” he said, as he walked back towards my truck. He climbed up on the bumper and started to pour the fluid in. “It is very empty, you will need more.” He went back to his car and pulled out another bottle.

“I don’t want to use up all of your coolant,” I said. “I really don’t mind calling a tow truck.”

He climbed back on top of the bumper and began to pour fluid in again. I noticed that his hands were covered in thick calluses and deep lines covered his face. It was obvious that he had spent many years working in the sun. “It’s still not full,” he said as he jumped down. Then he crawled under the truck and inspected the radiator. “I don’t see a leak.”

Normal people don’t go out of their way to help others like this, I thought. He must have an angle.

“Thank you very much,” I told him. “You have been too kind. I think this will get me to the next gas station.”

He paused for a second and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “I think you will need more.” He walked back to his car and returned with another bottle. “This is water, but I think it will fill it all the way.”

His kindness was beginning to make me feel uncomfortable. Normal people don’t go out of their way to help others like this, I thought. He must have an angle. Maybe he was going to hit me up for some money—or worse, maybe he planned to steal my truck after he fixed it.

“I don’t want to take all of your water. What if you need it?”

“I’ll be OK,” he said, as he climbed back up on the bumper. He emptied the contents of the bottle into the radiator and it began to overflow. It was finally full. I started the engine and checked the gauges. The temperature was back to normal.

He will pay me

Graphic art of angel with wings over highwayHe jumped down and took a long hard look at me. His expression had become serious. “You need to make sure you check your fluids when it is hot out, especially when you have your family with you.”

“I guess you’re right,” I responded, feeling embarrassed. “Can I pay you for the coolant and your time? I really appreciate your help.”

He stood silent for a moment, as if he didn’t understand my question. He looked puzzled. Then his face broke into a broad smile. He looked up, pointed towards the sky and responded, “He will pay me.”

Without another word, he climbed back into his car and headed west.

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Bob Kelsoe is a travel writer and photographer from Southern California (U.S.). You can find more of his travel photos on Instagram @traveling_strong.

image 1 Pixabay 2 Mojave phone booth via Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 4.0) 3 pxhere