May 21, 2024

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For Glorious Car

Strangers at Stewart’s rescue our classic car catastrophe

“Are you sure the car can make it,” I asked my husband.
“Yes, absolutely,” he said.
For years, my husband has been working to convince me to cruise down to the Hudson Valley in his father’s meticulously restored 1947 MG-TC.
I’ve declined. 
While my anxiety level tops out at moderate while driving around Albany in the classic car, leaving the region made me nervous. 
I worry about the reliability of any vehicle that is older than my parents. And, as someone who all but wears the harness on a merry-go-round, I was concerned about safety. 

As sweet as the MG looks, it weighs only 1,700 pounds — literally a ton and a half less than the SUV I drive daily — rolls on comically skinny tires and is so low to the ground that the top of the windshield is no higher than my hips. And it’s a convertible.
I was also dreading the prospect of a 90-minute ride in a vintage British sports car that is barely more accommodating to my 6-foot frame than the go-karts at FunPlex Fun Park in East Greenbush.
But, alas, I agreed to go. I was only half-joking when I asked whether I should wear my inline skating helmet during the ride.
When I needed to use the restroom, we pulled into a Stewart’s shop in North Red Hook, Dutchess County. When I came back out, my husband was looking under the hood of the car. 


People had crowded around to talk with him about the vehicle. They complimented the condition it was in, asked questions about the restoration process and wanted to know how we came to own it. (My father-in-law, who is a veteran, had it shipped home following his deployment overseas.) 
I could not easily follow the conversation my husband was having with the Stewart’s regular we would later learn was named Mike. 
But I could follow it when Mike said, “Ohhh, that’s not good. That’s not good at all. You’re going to need a flatbed to get that out of here.” My husband later explained it had a catastrophic engine failure. 
In what to me was an extraordinary example of small-town kindness to strangers, the sort I hope to teach my daughters to emulate, Mike whipped out his cellphone and started making calls, all the while greeting each customer by name. Mike called his buddy nearby who owned a tow truck. That friend, ironically, was up in Albany for the day. He called another friend, but he didn’t answer. 
“I know the guy who owns the tow company down the road,” Mike said. “Hop in and I’ll drive you there.”
Mike took us to the tow shop. Being a Sunday afternoon, the place was quiet. He whipped out that cellphone again and made a call, quickly getting the owner on the phone. The owner said he’d send someone to meet us back at the Stewart’s. 
While we waited for the tow truck, I went inside the convenience store for snacks and drinks. I used the bathroom (again) and talked with a few of the regulars while glancing out the window as my husband and Sam, the tow guy, loaded up the car. 
“If you’re going to break down anywhere, a Stewart’s is the best place to do it,” said one woman. “You’ve got a bathroom, snacks, drinks and ice cream. What can be better than that?”
Other than the fact I now have an “I told you so” to throw my husband’s way, not much.