On a busy street corner in a seemingly glamorous town, we do get all kinds of visitors stopping by the showroom. Some to buy, some to dream, and some to ask for help.
A woman named Marilyn stopped by today. She was about fifty years old, with dark hair, delicate features, and sad blue eyes. She was dressed in a slightly indeterminate way, as if she couldn't quite pull off dressing as twenty and couldn't bring herself to dress as fifty. Still an attractive woman, it was obvious she had been a beauty in an earlier time. Through a soft southern drawl she asked if she could borrow some water. I showed her the cooler full of bottled water we keep for guests. She said no, it was for her car.
She gestured at a dilapidated BMW outside on the side street. A once attractive black coupe, it now suffered from the effects of years of neglect and abuse. The paint no longer shone, and the chrome wheels were peeling from years of heat and neglect. The leather was sunbaked. The odometer showed 222,000 miles and counting. But it looked better than it ran. The head gasket was failing, and the car could only go about ten miles before she would have to cool it off and add water. Hence the reason for her visit, it had overheated in front of our door.
We chatted back and forth while the remains of the Ultimate Driving Machine cooled off sufficiently to allow her to replenish the coolant. She told me she had been a realtor in Birmingham for the last fifteen years, but the market turned sour and she ended up walking away from both a mortgage and a relationship, and so she pulled up stakes and moved west to try her luck.
She found a job selling advertising for some magazine, but it seems to barely keep her afloat. In the meantime she's studying for her California real estate license and trying to navigate Los Angeles in this rapidly deteriorating heap which seems to consume what few resources she has left.
And yet, she smiled and talked about the future, when she gets her feet back on the ground. She told me how she drove Jaguars in Birmingham, four shiny new ones in a row. She fought back tears the entire time she was waiting, but she never gave in. And with that, she poured water into that pitiful worn out car and she was off. Penniless at 50, forcing a smile and going through life with her fingers crossed ten miles at a time.
And I wondered just how many of us are really just like her, one misstep away from disaster. Perhaps the only difference is the awareness in her eyes.