When being thankful is a stretch

It’s been a long time since I’ve had my car towed by the city but last month I did. You’d think I’m a bit too old for having to trek down to the impound lot and suffer the indignities of standing in line in the cold waiting area and then having to shout my story’s circumstances through the thick glass partition that has no “speaker hole.”

But trek I did, and to make matters worse, it cost me $156 though (of course) it wasn’t my fault.

The daylong experience of retrieving the car had all the makings of a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day” that Judith Viorst so perfectly captures in the great children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

In it, the little boy has a series of bad things happen starting first thing in the morning, beginning with soaking his sweater by dropping it in the sink while brushing his teeth, then watching his brothers get cool toys in their cereal boxes while all he gets is, yep, cereal, then being forced to sit, squished, in the middle back seat during carpool even though it makes him nauseous. And that’s just his morning! Each time he complains about a mishap, he announces that he’s going to move to Australia.

His mother finally, wisely, tells him that everyone sometimes has terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days….. even in Australia.

Over the past few months, I’ve been having more than my fair share of Alexander-like days and when my editor suggested that my column fit in the thankfulness theme of this issue, I thought, “I don’t feel like writing something all warm and fuzzy about gratitude.”  I feel cranky and hassled and I know that’s when it is the toughest to be thankful.

But I’m 50, not 5 years-old like Alexander, and I know that one’s got to be thankful for one’s blessings no matter how they show up. And when I’m feeling depleted I always fall back on some wisdom from Ann Lamott, who said that if you can’t find the energy and oomph for an elaborate prayer, it can always be just the two simplest prayers, “Help, help,  help” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

On the day I had to retrieve that car, I had to go to the state DMV office over on Chicago in the old Sears building to get proof of registration for the car.

Then I had to go to a Hennepin County hearing officer to get the $700 worth of tickets from the previous owner waived, and then I had to go to the Impound lot and explain everything to the Impound cashier who has, no doubt, heard every story under the sun, and then I had to pay $156 for the tow, even though there was no way I could have known the car would be towed because of the former owner’s tickets, which certainly put a crimp in our already meager Christmas budget.

So what’s to be thankful for?  Hmmm.

Well, first, throughout the 19-hour saga, I had either a good natured, amusing driver (Calhoun square co-worker who drove me home when I discovered the car missing, or my husband or daughter the next day) all of whom dropped me right at the door of each stop, or I had a perfect parking space. I planned the day and was able to multi-task and did other important errands at each of the stops.

After I picked up my “number” at the Hennepin County hearing office, I then took my husband home from an appointment and when I returned 75 minutes later I was next in line! Everyone who waited on/processed me was helpful and sympathetic and the best thing of the day was the Impound lot guy.

He was an older Somali man and we got off to a rocky start when he typed in the incorrect plate number and then began fussing at me and calling me “Catherine.” The misunderstanding was compounded by my not being able to hear him clearly through the thick glass partition. We finally figured out the problem and soon both of us started being amused at the number of unfortunate circumstances that had brought me to his window. 

Finally, after more than an hour, he stamped and stapled by car’s release paperwork and he leaned forward, toward me through the glass, sweetly smiled and said, “I’m so sorry for your inconvenience.  I hope you have happy holidays.”

As I motored out of the impound lot in my frigid old-new car I simply whispered, “Thank  you.”

Terre Thomas owns the gift store Fairy Godmother in Calhoun Square and she and her family live in the Lyndale neighborhood. She can be reached at [email protected]