So you want to take your kids to the zoo?

As a parent you try to do for your children, and working together with your spouse usually makes things a lot easier on everyone involved.  So when you plan something simple, like going to the zoo it should be rather simple, fun, and memorable.  However the reality that we live in is that generally speaking, something is going to happen to make you resort to “Plan B”.  All too often we don’t develop a second plan based on what may or may not happen, so when something in the plan goes haywire you have to think on your feet.  Or as in our case last week, you might just be blessed enough to have some guardian angels step in and save the day.

The Columbus Zoo is just under three hours from our house, so waking up early, driving to the zoo and having a day full of fun, then turning around and driving back is not something too hard to accomplish.  We planned the trip out, set aside money, and hopped in the car on Tuesday morning and headed north west.  Our twelve year old had recently been to the zoo so he was excited, but maybe not as much as he was the first time he went.  The nineteen year old had also been before, so he was going to serve as our guide of sorts helping us get to where we wanted to go quicker, instead of wandering aimlessly all day.  The four year old was, to say the least, beside herself.  I think she had dreamed of monkeys, elephants, and gorilla’s for several nights leading up to the trip. The twenty year old was also making his first trip to the zoo, so he had some specific plans on things he wanted to see. One last minute development was that the twelve year olds girlfriend was going to join us for the trip. Excitement at its finest, and most genuine state.
We had just crossed over the bridge and in to the state of Ohio when everyone started to get comfortable in their seats. My wife and I had got everything sorted up front with music, temperature of the car, and who’s drink goes in which cup holder. In the back seat the twenty year old had the earphones in and was jamming to his latest download. The four year old was snoozing, trying to sneak in one more dream about what would he a reality just a couple short hours from now. In the third row seat the twelve year old and his girlfriend were talking away about this friend, or that friend. In the car behind us was the nineteen year old and his girlfriend in her car. Cruise controls were set and we were on our way.
At first I thought I had missed the accelerator pedal. But then there was a sound and I knew that wasn’t the case. Something was wrong with the car, and then every light on the dashboard lit up and the car shut down. I hit the hazard lights and drifted off the road. Since we were on a two lane road I did the best I could to get as far away from traffic as possible. The passenger side tire in the grass was the best I could do. It was a safe distance but kids on the side of the road make you a little uneasy, on top of that we have someone else’s child with us. Someone else had put their trust in us to make sure she made it home safe. At this point getting the car in shape for us to get someplace safe is all that’s on my mind. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the car but I know it’s bad. We open the hood and spend thirty minutes or so trying to disprove the obvious, the engine is blown, the car isn’t going anywhere unless its getting a piggyback ride on a wrecker. So I place a call to emergency roadside assistance and get the ball rolling on getting the car towed, as well as trying to locate a rental. In theory if we can get a rental quick enough, then we can still make the zoo in plenty of time.
As I’m verifying everything with the lady on the phone I see a police car going past us on the road. Now here in West Virginia this is a normal thing. Its accepted that their not going to stop and help you, but we were in Meigs County Ohio, and apparently if people are in a bad spot the folks that live in this area are going to lend a helping hand. We were fortunate enough to have the sheriff himself stop to help us out Mr. Keith Woods.  What we didn’t know at the time was that this was going to be our first brush with a guardian angel for the day.
As soon as he got out of the car he said “how many kids do you have”? I told him a boatload and let him know that they were my main concern. I told him where they were taking the car, and he let me know that the car repair shop and the rental car company were in two different directions. We were in just about the worst spot we could be in. We didn’t have enough room in our one working car to get everyone to one place so he offered to drive three people to the rental car company so that they could rent a car, then they could come pick me up and we could make our way to the zoo. Problem solved, and away they went. Along the way I’m sure he could sense the four year old’s uneasiness, so he made conversation with her continuously, talking about the zoo, and the further they drove the more comfortable she was.  By the time they had reached the rental car company she was laughing and having a great time.  And since the police officer had been so excited about the polar bears, that was on top of the four year olds list of things to see.  Perhaps the officer was just doing his duty, maybe he is just a nice guy.  But for me and my family, on that day and in our situation we couldn’t have asked for anything better than him.  And his simple gesture to kindness made a huge difference in our families safety, and overall attitude in a bad situation.

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Not too long after they left the wrecker showed up and loaded up our car. We loaded up and headed back in the other direction to the repair shop.

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When we got there I spoke to a guy named Larry, he was the apparent owner of the shop and seemed like a great guy. I told him what had happened to the car and he said he could look at it later in the day. There was an older gentleman setting behind the counter with him giving him a hard time about everything he said and did, it was obvious good clean fun and it appeared as if this was the norm between these two.
It was about this time that my phone rang, it was the wife and I fully expected her to let me know she was on the way with a rental, and needed directions to where I was. However she called to inform me that the rental car company didn’t have any cars to rent. That didn’t make much sense to me considering it was a Tuesday afternoon in the middle of nowhere. She had some concern in her voice, along with some frustration so I did all I could to calm her nerves and insure her that I would find a car.
I hung up with her and asked Larry where would he the closest place to rent a car since there apparently wasn’t any cars for rent where my wife was. He named a couple different cities and I quickly looked them up on my phone and started calling. Now I realize this may seem strange, buy the truth is we called a total of seven rental car company’s only to be told each time “we don’t have anything available today”.
It was at this point I knew I needed to explain everything to Larry and see if he could lend me some help. I didn’t even know where I was, much less how far away from anything I was. So I explained to him about the wife and kids, told them where they were and that we were just trying to go to the zoo. At this point the older gentleman spoke up and said “well take my car”, I kinda chuckled and told him I appreciated the offer however I didn’t feel comfortable taking a strangers car.
Larry said he may know someone who would rent me a car and he made a call. The older gentleman insisted that I take his car and, as he said “get them kids to the zoo”. He said he wouldn’t argue about it anymore and that he was going to get his truck so I needed to meet him out front. Larry’s attempt to get me a car had failed, so I asked him what he thought I should do. There was no hesitation whatsoever when he told me to take the old feller up on his offer. He said he was good as gold, and was as serious as could be, and never fails to have a soft spot for kids. So out the door I go to climb in an old beat up Chevy truck, no clue where I am or where I’m going, but believing in my heart that I’m gonna make it to the zoo for the kids.

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I snuck a picture of the second guardian angel of the day as we drove toward his house. I also called the wife to let her know I had found a car and was on my way to get it. I didn’t know what kind of car, and of course she asked and I didn’t bother explaining it to her I simply said that I would explain when I got there.
The gentleman extended his hand and told me his name was John Fisher. I told him mine and shook his hand. I explained that I wasn’t really sure what to say, and I asked what I could offer him for allowing me to use his car. He said there was no need for anything, he just wanted us to get to the zoo and then home safe. He told me he didn’t need the car until Thursday evening, and I explained I was off the following day and would be sure to return it.
When we reached his house I saw setting in the driveway a Buick LeSabre, it didn’t look like a car I have ever owned and didn’t look like a car I ever have plans of owning. But it did look like a safe way for my wife and I to get the kids to the zoo. Mr. Fisher told me to drive it like my own and that I needed to get going.
In a moment of reality it hit me that this man standing before me was making a truly genuine act of random kindness. The following day I would learn that he was only at the repair shop to pay one of the young men working there for some side work he had done for him. The circumstances in which we crossed paths were impossible, and yet they had happened. He was meant to be there, and I was meant to be in need. His basic generosity was moving, and I wasn’t sure what to say or do. So I told him I wasn’t exactly sure what to say to him or what to do. He made it easy, “say goodbye, get in the car and get them kids to the zoo”. So that’s what I did.
Thirty minutes later I was pulling in to a McDonald’s parking lot to pick up my wife and kids. Yes we had some laughs about the car itself, the Barbara Mandrel cassette in the radio and the scenario in general. There were certainly moments when I felt like Clark Griswald in Vacation, and we even joked that we were on a quest, a quest for fun! The most important thing is that  we made it to the zoo and we saw the gorillas and the elephants and even a polar bear.

We had two people cross our paths on this day, and they made a difference.  They took a stranded and more than likely helpless family and made simple gestures that insured a memorable and fun trip to the zoo.  We have good memories and laughs to look back on, instead of a stack of negatives.  When I returned the car to Mr. Fisher the next day he was setting on the porch in a rocking chair relaxing.  He had no interest in checking out his car to make sure it was ok, I didn’t bother telling him that we had woke up early that morning and washed it swept it out and filled it up with gas for him, that wouldn’t matter to him either.  The offer of money was quickly squashed by him as he looked me straight in the eye and said “Mr. Grover, did those kids have fun”? At that point I understood, and perhaps I learned more in that moment than any of the kids did at the zoo.  There are angels among us, and sometimes when you least expect it they show up.  A thank you and a hand shake sometimes go a long way and I’m fortunate enough to have experienced that.

Thank you Sheriff Woods, and Mr. Fisher.  We wouldn’t have made it without you!

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