Monday afternoon Robin and I were walking around the neighborhood, both for exercise and to visit the local grocery store to buy milk and munchies, when from across the street a tiny Hispanic lady in a big red coat called to us. She seemed to be asking for help in finding "Flower Belly Jelly", which made no sense. So we crossed the road to get closer in hopes of figuring out what she needed.
She was with two young women, also Latinas, and they each had a baby carriage --- though the contents of the carriages were bundled up against the cold and couldn't be seen. I talked with the little woman, the only one of the group who spoke English, and it turned out that she was trying to find a flower shop near the street we were on. According to her notes (the bulk of which were in Spanish) the name of the shop was indeed "Flower Belly Jelly" --- which still seemed like nonsense.
But it was windy, the temperature was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and the ladies had no car. So Robin and I decided we had better walk them down the road and help them find the mysterious florist. I practiced some of my high school Spanish with the leader, much to her amusement, while the other two women followed pushing their prams.
About half a mile later we reached an industrial park and found a deli that was still open. It was then about 5 p.m., the sun was setting, and the rest of the shops were closed or closing. Robin and I got the ladies into the diner where it was warm and well-lit. I scouted around the area and found one wholesale floral business. An Asian woman was shutting the office for the night. She was new there but thought that she remembered another florist further down the road.
Back at the deli, the young women had unwrapped their children --- cute daughters, one almost two years old, the other an infant. The kids and their mothers were thawing out with hot soup and coffee. The older lady's name, she revealed, was Mercedes; she was indeed an abuela, grandmother to the baby and great-aunt to the other child.
Mercedes and Robin and I set out walking again, questing for the legendary "Flower Belly Jelly". We left the rest of the crew behind in the delicatessen. Before we had gotten very far the Asian florist on her way home drove up and offered us a ride in her minivan. The first side street she tried led to nothing; we struck gold on the second, though, a winding "No Outlet" avenue that hooked around a car parts place, a body shop, and a couple of other automotive facilities. Behind them were two big trucks labeled "Flowers by Jeni" --- doubtless the source of a "Flower Belly Jelly" garble.
We thanked the kind florist, climbed out of her van, and walked back to the cafe. Mercedes explained that her daughter-in-law was seeking a job at the flower store. The wintry expedition had been designed to locate the place and identify bus routes to get there and back. Mission accomplished, in other words.
Robin and I left the Latin ladies and hiked home (and were coincidentally stopped along the way by another lost soul, this one in a car, seeking a furniture store; we got her pointed in the right direction and went on). But the obvious thought occurred to us: standing around waiting for one bus, then transferring to another, might not be the best thing in the world for these people --- especially the kids, especially with it getting dark and the temperature falling into the teens. So when we reached the house I got the old Dodge Dart started up and drove back, helped fold the baby carriages and put them into the trunk, and got everybody packed in comfortably. We drove past Flowers by Jeni to make sure everybody could find it again, and then I took the women several miles to where the various buses they needed converged.
The next day gave me a chance to cash in whatever "good deed" points (and more!) that Robin and I had earned. Unexpected snow turned the evening rush hour into an icy crawl. On the way home, stuck in traffic five miles out, the dreaded Battery Discharge Light came on. (This was in the Honda, twenty years newer than the Dart.) I couldn't do much more than watch for turn-off opportunities and hope. First the lights dimmed, then the radio failed; clearly there was an electrical problem and I was running on borrowed time, battery power feeding the sparkplugs.
Finally the traffic broke open and I was able to make progress via side streets ... four miles to go ... three ... two ... to save energy I turn off headlights ... engine develops a ragged idle ... stalls on the approach to a stop sign, but restarts when I pop the clutch (thank goodness for manual transmissions) ... one mile ... roll through five stop signs ... then a straight shot into the only empty parking space in front of the auto repair shop, where the car dies as soon as it is parked. Whew! Diagnosis: dead alternator; fixed next afternoon.
Sunday, January 23, 2000 at 15:50:56 (EST) = Datetag20000123