Not how the night was supposed to begin. Just twelve hours from the beginning of our self-declared 'take your colleague to work day' and days from when we were planning on shipping our bus to London and the bus wouldn't start. And it's not like the bus was stuttering and giving me the false hope that if I tried the ignition one more time it would work. I turned the key and nothing happened. Nothing. I might as well have been sticking the key into a mango.
In the 90 degree thunderstorm I conveniently found myself in, I noted that our bus had the same convectional tendencies as a brick oven.
Parked in a lot in that ambiguous part of Manhattan straddling Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen (or is it MiMA?), I was proactively useless as I fumbled around the bus trying and retrying the few car-starting tricks I had up my very short sleeve. (My sleeve of car mechanic tricks started as a tank top and has recently been promoted to a muscle tee). Realizing that I was in no way simulating an on the road experience, I called AAA to come and help. I sat in the dark and stifling heat, the horseman of a broken down chariot, and couldn't help but laugh. How on Earth would I navigate 1/3rd of the Earth's surface in a yellow school bus if I couldn't even get the bus to drive ten blocks in my hometown of eight million people?
One thing that all Mongol Rally teams pretty much accept from the get go is that they will inevitably break down. They will run out of fuel or have their battery die at least once. There will be times when every team doubts their ability to reach the finish line, and many teams, in fact, will not make it.
For me, a perpetual planner, this was a difficult fact to face. In all past aspects of my life, whether it be work, relationships, or other trips I've planned, there has always been an easy exit, a 'get out of jail free card' or a home base in one giant game of tag. It took a leap of faith unforeseen in my life to commit to such an endeavor and accept that no degree of planning would immunize me from problems that were bound to arise.
When I began packing, I diligently researched every possible combination of things that could go wrong and what I could do to negate these problems. How much brake line should I bring? Do I need a spare tire for each of my 6 wheels? How many fuses and bulbs could possibly blow during a 10,000km trip?
In the end, I learned to relinquish my desire to have complete control over every possible variable of the trip. I accepted that no matter what precautions I took now, chance and fate would have their way and I would eventually find myself hurled into a inexorable vortex of character building.
On this particular hot and stormy evening in Manhattan, the desperation was not long lived. Within half an hour of calling AAA, I was joined by both my teammate Kate and Johnny, an eager AAA agent who looked not unlike The Fonz. Twenty minutes later, after trying many iterations of problem solving, my frustration and fears disintegrated. The engine roared to life and an exalted Johnny emerged from the cab with a big smile and outstretched arms as if to say "who's the man?" He was. He was the man.
Here's to many more Johnny's along our trip.
Epilogue: Driving down the FDR last Saturday evening, I pull up next to a beat up green Pathfinder with a AAA sticker on the back window. I lean out the window and scream Johnny's name, who is behind the wheel and clad in the same red skullcap I met him in. He appears to be listening to a very catchy tune. We exchange email addresses through our windows, he wishes me luck, and we head on our separate ways. Never before have I engaged in a ten minute conversation going 60mph, and I am elated by chance encounters such as this one that no amount of planning could ever recreate.