A short and stocky woman with long black hair answered.
“Yeah?” she asked.
In pleading tones, I pointed to the little tan Toyota, looking unperturbed and maddeningly cheery on the shoulder even when rattled again and again by the charging semis and the impassive Land Rovers, in which couples headed at 80 mph for success drank their Starbucks and read their Times without a care in the world. I explained how we’d stalled, and asked to charge the cell phone.
“Sure,” she said, and plugged the phone into a socket in the vigorously air conditioned living room. Her husband, sunk low into the couch, barely bothered to gaze up at us, as if windswept and desperate-looking couples were always showing up on the stoop begging for the use of an outlet. “Hi,” I said. He nodded, turned right back to the TV.
Two hours later I was shouting “M AS IN MIKE!” into the cell phone to an Indian call center responder with a still-blatant accent and a tenuous command of English, while Jorge ate a Moon Pie and stared with feigned comprehension under the car’s hood with the woman’s husband. The husband, I’d discovered in conversation over Styrofoam cups of Pepsi, had lost several toes to diabetes. He was in a black wife beater and jeans, and told us that this happened all the time, seemed like there was something on this stretch of the highway ‘cause people were always breaking down and coming to ask for help. You wouldn’t believe it. And some of ‘em were outright rude. I upped the intensity of my desperate thank yous. He shook them off with a wave of his hand. I think he took a shine to Jorge, as lonely manly men tend to do, puffing out his chest and talking fluids and gauges and valves while us women straddled the picnic table benches and sipped our Pepsis.
The wife had brought out the moon pies first, then the little Styrofoam cups with ice for the soda, and then hot dogs for Stella, who was panting indiscreetly and trying, under the strain of the heat and the exhaustion from her journey in plane cabins and backseats across borders, to pay attention to where in the hell we were and what was going on and whether there was any threat in the immediate vicinity. Her ears would perk, then tilt gently to the sides as she caved to the fact that it was 105 degrees, in West Texas, and we were sitting outside under an aluminum awning waiting for the husband’s cousin, a mechanic at the truck stop, to come take a look.