Feeling the Western Hospitality

That’s not gonna be pretty. The thought ran through my head as soon as I heard the tell-tale thunk of a semi-sizable rock smacking into my windshield. I was nearing the end of Day 2 of my transcontinental drive, just entering Indiana. I thought I was far enough behind the red pickup to be free of the rock zone, but I misjudged by about four inches.

The nickel-sized starburst in the lower corner of the passenger side window was a concern, but there was nothing I could do about it at 7 p.m. in Elkhart. By the following morning, however, my starburst had developed an 8-inch crack straight through it, one end of which proceeded to creep further along as I made my way to Minneapolis—again, a place I reached late enough that there wasn’t much to be done upon arrival.

Before leaving the city, I phoned a variety of repair shops, stopped in at one, and called no joy. My attention turned to the other end of the day, and I chased down a number for windshield repair in Bismarck. That’s when my luck began to change.

A lovely man named Dirk not only picked up the phone, but informed me that he couldn’t make the repair due to it being illegal to fix anything over six inches. Instead, he suggested I call the local Glass Doctor franchise—which I’d already tried, but whose phone seemed out of order. From my sweltering car in a Minnesota parking lot, I explained this to Dirk and asked if he might have the local number. He cheerfully pulled out his phone book and chased down the number for me. I called, but there was no message box, and I gave up.

My next call was to my insurance agent, who made sad noises and provided the number for the third-party glass claims processing company. After navigating through a bewildering series of options, I explained the whole situation, including my series of “passing through, not staying” cities. The representative's flat affect throughout the call was not reassuring. She connected me with another shop in Bismarck, but apparently didn't pass on any of the details, since the gentleman I spoke with told me that they’d be happy to replace the windshield—six days hence. This not being an option, he helpfully suggested that I call shops a few days ahead on my path and schedule something, since the glass would have to be shipped in. I hung up, wiped away the sweat pouring from my forehead, and decided to deal with everything at the end of the day’s drive.

So I was surprised, as I cruised I-94 about 15 minutes later, when a Bismarck number popped up on my phone. I fumbled to connect the speaker cord while watching traffic whip around me.

"Hi! This is Ben, at Glass Doctor in Bismarck. I'm sorry I didn't get to the phone when you called a while ago. What can I do for you?"

I explained that I didn't imagine he could do much of anything, as I would need a full windshield replacement and I was less than six hours away.

"I'm just placing my glass order now. It usually comes in around 10, so if you were here tomorrow morning, we'd have you on the road by 11. Where are you headed?"

"That might work. I'm headed for Bozeman tomorrow, so it's a bit of hike, but 11's not too late to get started ..."

Well. It seems that Ben in Bismarck was great friends with Austin at the Bozeman franchise, and had some fair amount of knowledge about how things worked at that shop. He immediately went into "fix it" mode, his voice animated and brain firing away. I was still driving along and had limited ability to take down a number or chase down the solution.

"If you don't mind, I'll just message him with the details and what's going on, and give him your number. He can get everything squared away out there and just call you back."

Ben was rapidly becoming my hero in shining windshield replacement. (I would later learn from a quick Google search that he was, in fact, the owner of the Glass Doctor in Bismarck, which explained the super-quick, solution-focused plan of attack.)

We hung up, with me offering profuse amounts of gratitude. About an hour later, a Bozeman number appeared on the screen.

"Hi, this is Brad from Glass Doctor of Bozeman! I understand you're headed our way and need a windshield replaced?"

He had all the details, all the information, and total clarity about my travel schedule. We chatted for a minute, filled in a couple of details about the specific car make and model.

"I can definitely have the glass in tomorrow, and I know you're not getting in until the end of the day. We're not usually open Saturdays, but I've already talked to the guys and they're all-in to get you fixed up if you can meet them here at 8 on Saturday morning. Shouldn't take more than an hour or so."

My verbal river of gratitude overflowed once again. We talked insurance and I made sure I knew what code they would need to process the work. He offered directions to the shop from the freeway, so I'd know which of Bozeman's three exits to take and how simple it would be to find the shop. When we clicked off the call, I felt totally at ease that the situation was under control and I need not concern myself with anything other than showing up at the right place at the right time, about 42 hours in the future.

Still, I was surprised. Under a bright blue sky, I gazed out over the open road and the golden North Dakota prairies and wondered: Who does that, anymore?

The next morning, somewhere between Bismarck and Billings, the answer struck me. I was back in the West. People here still look out for one another, in some cases simply as a matter of course. I could picture my dad in Nevada making a quick check of an installation or my grandpa in California jiggering with a neighbor's fencing. The news reports all day were about wildfires gobbling up acres of drought-parched land throughout Montana, and about the way residents throughout the state and from neighboring areas jumped to assist at an astonishing rate of speed and with overwhelming generosity. 

A cracked windshield generates nothing near a wildfire-level of concern. But boy, does it feel good when someone just says, "Hey! We got this."