Playing the Damsel In Distress Card

Life has a way of putting us in situations that can provide answers to our most perplexing inner conflicts, if we choose to connect the metaphoric dots. As a poker playing female, I derive great pride from being strong, brave, and independent. Yet, somewhere between Palos Verdes and Torrance on the back of a stranger’s motorcycle, I realized I needed to stop beating myself up for the fact that my current choices have muddled that identity.

I was on my only planned vacation for the year – an overnight scooter trip to Los Angeles for the Swerve ‘n Curve scooter rally – and had been scootering for more than four hours (including pit stops) when my bike started acting up. I drive a rebuilt Kymko Like 200 – a Vespa knockoff with a Chinese engine – which has been growing increasingly sluggish each time I’ve used it for a longer trip, similar to the way my finances had endured further strain every month I’d declared myself to be a writer.

I had noticed a bit more oil than usual splattered across the engine case when we stopped to refuel before the big rally ride, but the “no worries” state I’d willfully induced led me to shrug it off. I was sure my mechanic/coworker had properly prepped my bike for the occasion and “knew” such spillage was just the normal exhaust from the breather tube in high volume. Still, as my scooter began to lurch like an epileptic, half-stall, and lose steam sporadically, I found myself issuing a familiar self-scolding: Did you really do everything you could to prevent this from happening, Rachel? What are you going to do now to ensure it doesn’t end in complete and utter disaster?

Although I was riding with over 200 scooterists at the time, only one of my close friends was anywhere I could catch him (behind me) and his scooter has a saddle built for one. I didn’t pull over the moment the check engine light lit up because I knew I would be stranded and couldn’t afford to cab it (or Uber) to the end. About a minute later, my rational brain regained control and made me surrender to the moment. I told my wing man to leave me there and send back help. It might take an hour, but one of my friend’s boyfriends had followed us down in his truck and could get me home eventually.

I’d hardly shed my safety gear when my wing man phoned to say he’d lost the pack. I texted him the address for the end party (thankfully, I had brought a copy of the rally ride map and directions they’d handed out) and started leaving messages for my other friends in the ride to circle back for me when they could. I didn’t have the man with the truck’s phone number and my sister had been texting me requests to translate Spanish phrases, so I called her with the answer to her question so I could simultaneously whine about my predicament while I waited.

As is generally the case when my sister requests translations, she was at work. She gave me two minutes to whine and offered to phone a friend we knew in LA, but I told her I would be fine. I was overlooking a beach side golf course. I wasn’t in any immediate danger. To begin proving (once again) what a strong, resourceful woman I was, I decided I might as well push my scooter up the road to a better temporary storage spot. Just as I started to roll it up the hill, a motorcyclist pulled off into the bike lane ahead of me and asked if I needed any help. “Well… I could use a ride,” came out of my mouth before I even processed why I’d chosen to trust him.

He had a kind voice and didn’t appear to be a daredevil. There were faster routes he could’ve chosen for his journey – his enduro (or dual sport?) was clearly capable – but he’d chosen the mellow scenic route instead. I hadn’t been a big fan of such “function over form” bikes in the past, partially due to the personalities I knew who drove them, but it was definitely an appropriate time to make an exception. My knight in non-shining armor secured my bags on his rig and waited patiently while I phoned three different friends to say I was on my way to the party and not to worry. I left messages for two, spoke directly to my wing man, then hopped on the back of his bike. (On a “normal” day, I would’ve texted a picture of his license plate and profile to all three friends at once, the quicker and safer communication route.)

His Garmin (thankfully) led him over the same hills I remembered from the year before and he proved to be an extremely courteous escort, making it easy to relax and enjoy the city views. It wasn’t quite the same from the back seat – looking straight ahead posed certain difficulties – but it did remind me that when you’re always in the driver’s seat, you can’t fully appreciate that which lies in the periphery. The knight in non-shining armor carried me safely to my friends, then disappeared into the sunset (metaphorically speaking, at least).

A few hours later, the truck which had followed me southbound early that morning added my scooter to its return load. The mechanic wouldn’t be back to work for a few days, but I left my problems at his doorstep just after sunset. All in all, it was a fairytale themed day. I’d been rescued twice. When I left on the trip, I was feeling a bit guilty for expecting life to bring me such unlikely experiences, as if my writerly tendencies were getting the best of me somehow. By the time I nestled my scooter into the maintenance lineup, that guilt was nowhere to be found.

If there’s one thing that trip taught me, it’s this: breakdowns can be breakthroughs. Perhaps it’s only natural that a poker playing lass who thrives on the highs and lows endured on the felt would believe in fairytales. Both are manifestations of a firm belief in happy endings. Perhaps “reliable and affordable” isn’t my favorite way to ride. Perhaps my life path is a bit more rocky because, if it wasn’t, my Prince Charming would have no need to swoop in and save me and I’d never get the happy ending my heart desires. It certainly seemed that once I let life force me to play the damsel in distress card, it was able to send me a happy ending.

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