Shore Road near Lovers Lane, where flood waters flowed over roadways at certain areas.

My worst nightmare growing up in a shabby, two-story Milwaukee condominium complex had me walking down a small staircase leading to our basement. Through an open space under the railing, someone or something would grab me and pull me in toward our nearby crawl space. I know—horrifying—and it reoccurred regularly.

My second-worst frequent dream—and a close second—involved flooding.

We lived a few miles down the road from an agriculture area on the fringe between city life and affluent suburbs. When heavy rains hit, the fields flooded, setting off a visual transformation from green grass to wavy, rippling, shimmering, roadside lakes similar to those we’ve witnessed recently in San Benito County. Like here, water flowed over the pavement, or at least alongside it, during the bad storms.

In my second-worst dream as a child—with me either walking or in a car—those rain waters would flow into the narrow road right before me. Panic would set in, and I’d wake up in a sweat. It was awful.

So when I compelled myself Monday morning to drive through the Shore Road and Lovers Lane area of this county—a bona fide disaster zone after storms walloped the Hollister area and right before an onslaught of even more rain—it was no small task on the anxiety meter. Coming to an approaching flood patch flowing over Shore Road, I made a thoughtless decision to pull over with my tires off the pavement. Hitting the gas and without movement, and hearing that brain-scratching sound of spinning wheels, fields of lakes just off the road, here I was, thirty-something years after those terrifying dreams, realizing my second-worst nightmare.

At least I wasn’t being pulled under a staircase into a crawl space, right?
Unfortunately, there was no solace in such thinking—not out there, where homes and livelihoods were under water. Fortunately for me, after just a few vehicles passed on the two-lane, rural road, someone heading in the opposite direction slowed as I heaved and slid—shoes and feet soaked—hopelessly.

Local driver Carlos Romero came to a stop, offered help and asked if I had AAA. I explained how I did recently have roadside assistance with my insurance, but rolled the dice a couple months back and dropped it.

Life Lesson No. 2 learned on this trip gone wrong: Always carry roadside assistance. The minimal monthly cost, and ease of mind, is well worth the investment.

Carlos reiterated that point, and I agreed, appreciatively. With rain coming down harder and harder, he then mentioned how he had an extra card with a free roadside assist available on it, and that he’d let me use it. While on the phone with the service worker, he asked if I wanted to get in his truck, with his teenage son in the front passenger seat, and I gladly obliged.

For about 10 or 15 minutes waiting for the Tiffany tow truck—an impressive response considering we had been pretty far from town—with rain pouring on the rooftop, we had a friendly chat.

We talked about the Packers’ playoff game the day before, since he’d caught on about my home state.

He mentioned it had been his day off from his job in construction.

We conversed over being so close to Silicon Valley, and it led to him expressing hope that his children take those opportunities into account as they weigh their futures.

We commiserated how traffic in San Benito County keeps getting worse, and I shared how I figured it’ll continue that way until roads are expanded and improved. All in all, we got along like two old pals. Meanwhile, his son seemed to enjoy our time pulled off on the side of the road, safely tucked in a short turn-off, and was as polite as his father. That didn’t come as a surprise.

Eventually the tow truck arrived. My heart pounded a little less. My small problem seemed smaller by the second.

Carlos pulled behind my car and made sure I was set before driving away. The driver from Tiffany was equally courteous. As the rain poured, he ripped out grass and basically stuck his face in the ground, grappling the front of my car before pulling it out from the mud.

The experience was eye opening and renewed my faith in the goodness of strangers. It showed me I’m often too cynical, and Carlos left me with the best advice of all when I wanted to pay him back for what he’d done. He refused—no surprise there—and told me to return the favor for someone else.

When the next chance arises, I certainly will. The next time I get down about what amounts to a small problem—especially while other local families, right around me, are suffering from a real disaster—I’ll remind myself of Carlos and his humility.

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