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  • Reading Richard's story 'The Sluice Gate' today reminded me a true story where the main character was exactly the same kind of wheel. I also must apologise that this writing is longer than my other ones have been.

    It happened about 10 years ago. I had to go to Jūrmala, to a conference organised by Peace Corps volunteers and had to take two of the volunteers working in Estonia with me. Like it usually is with Murphy and his Laws and all other stuff in life - my car broke down just a day before my trip.

    What was I to do but to rent one. It was not like we had rentals at every street corner and only after several phone calls did my husband find me a car, which actually seemed to work. The owner assured us it was in perfect shape, had had repairs done just recently and all the other good stuff. Which reminds me - never trust a car rental person!

    There are two routes to get to Latvia but I won't go into details. I chose the longer one but it went through a town, which was a very wise decision indeed as it turned out later on.

    Those days we still had customs between the two countries and it was also the time that the foot-and-mouth disease or some other nasty bug was spreading somewhere in Europe so, at every border you had to drive through a pool of disinfectant. I have to point out that I have a natural reluctance to drive into any kind of liquid substance anywhere on the ground having ruined my car once while driving into a perfectly innocent looking little puddle of rainwater, which turned out to be a bottomless pit.

    The first 200 kilometres went just fine and then we reached Valga (The border town between Estonia and Latvia. In Estonia it is Valga and turns into Valka as we reach Latvia) and there was this pool of something and I had to dive in, which I did and when I got out from the other side I heard a noise. Practice has taught me that ANY noise coming from a car that isn't directly connected with the humming of the engine or can't be muffled with the radio, is not good. I stopped immediately and then I saw something roll out from under the car followed by some smaller stuff. That can't be normal, can it!

    I went outside and caught the bigger thingy. It looked exactly like the one Richard had on his photo. I had seen it before but I didn't know the name of it. By that time we had aroused the interest of the customs officers and one or two came to see what was the matter. I explained. It was good we were still in Estonia. I could never explain anything about a car in Russian or in Latvian even if my life depended on it.

    The customs person told me there were a couple of repair shops in Valga. I was happy! But they were closed already. Not so happy! But he could call one because he knew the owner. I was happy! But he didn't have a tow truck. Not so happy! But he knew another who had a tow truck! So happy me! But he was supposed to go away this evening, maybe had already gone! Dear me, it started to remind me of a film or something. I decided to take matters to my own hand and asked him for a number. He gave it to me, somewhat reluctantly saying he didn't believe anyone was able to help. Such optimism was extremely exhilarating!

    I don't remember what I said to this guy but after some time and not as much persuasion as I thought I surely had to do, he decided to come and take a look but no promises.

    He came, checked the car and said it was bad. No shit!!! I knew that. But I smiled politely and asked if there was anything he could do. He said he could tow the car away and repair it on Monday because he was just on his way to somewhere. I don't remember where - fishing, party, foreign country...no idea. Then he stood there, thinking and smiling, listening to my ranting about the conference, two foreigners in my car and how awfully important it was to get to Jūrmala, my life almost depended on it. Surely I didn't say that but it felt like I did. And then he suddenly said he would do it.

    I stood there, totally dumbfounded, couldn't believe my luck and afraid I was dreaming. But...to make the long story shorter - he towed the car, while we were sitting in the car - absolutely illegal and so much fun! We went to have some coffee and chat with some friends the girls had in Valga and after an hour he called saying the car was ready.

    It cost me 100 kroons (today about 6 euros) though I wanted to pay him more but he refused very resolutely.

    It taught me something as well - things really are not as bad as they first seem; you can accomplish anything when you really want; the world is filled with good people; never rent a car from someone you don't know. It took my husband some effort to make the owner see he really was lying when he told us the car was in perfect condition. The man who repaired it in Valga said it could be seen the car had not been serviced for some time.

    All is well that ends well and though we were some hours late the two Peace Corps volunteers will probably never forget this ride. I know I surely won't and now I get all panicky when I see any puddle of water, which makes driving really complicated in this part of the world. and when I drove back I asked the customs officer to drive through the pool. He looked at me funny (not the same guy who was there when my car broke down) but I explained I had a very severe case of aquaphobia and even have to drink water with my eyes closed. He was a very obliging person.
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