This past weekend my boyfriend and I attended the 26th Annual Combine Demolition Derby in Lind, WA. (Yeah, I don’t know.) Apparently this is kind of a big deal and something he had gone to once before with his uncle, and he talked about wanting to go again before we even moved here. So here we were at this (surprisingly) packed event, seated on metal bleachers in the blazing sun, covered in dust and getting pelted by mud clods. We were essentially sitting in what can only be described as a giant Wok of human stir fry. A good time was had by all (except me. All except me.)
Now you may think that being not only Hispanic, but a Hispanic of Caribbean descent, and having been born and raised in South Florida, that I would be pretty accustomed to heat and bright sun, right? Yeah, not so much. I am probably the whitest non-Anglo person you will ever meet. I am so fair-skinned I practically glow. Like bioluminescence. The Vampire Lestat has got nothing on me, is what I’m saying. So you would think that, knowing this and having been called Casper for a good part of my childhood, I’d be fully prepared, carrying an entire arsenal of sunblock and big, floppy hats and maybe even an E-Z Up tent with me everywhere I go. The thing is I usually avoid the sun. As a rule, I generally abstain from any outdoor activities on particularly bright, sunny days. Or on days occurring between the months of May through September. Or between the hours of 11AM and 5PM. Or, really, just on any day at all.
Aside from making me resemble the crustacean on the Red Lobster logo, a day in the sun usually results in me experiencing a bout of heatstroke. How do I know I’m experiencing heatstroke? Well, first I start to feel really warm, particularly around my neck and all over my scalp. Next, I start cold sweating, usually down my back and in the crooks of my knees and elbows. This is when my heartbeat speeds up. Then my hearing starts to go. This is a little harder to explain, but it’s like hearing through a paper cup; I can hear you speaking but the words sound distant and muffled. Finally, my vision starts to go and everything looks like it has a gray haze over it with little dots of light poking through. When I get to this point, I know I’m about to “lose my legs” and the only thing I can do is sit down and wait for it to pass.
This is nothing new and has happened to me on many occasions, from the time I was a child. Spending the day lounging on the beach or riding around on a boat might sound like a dream come true to some people. Personally, I’d rather eat glass. Whenever I get invited to anything that sounds suspiciously outdoors-y my first two questions are always “Will there be an indoor area?” and “Is there air conditioning?” This is not me being spoiled or high maintenance. This is me not wanting to end up in the Emergency Room because, frankly, my insurance kind of sucks and “ain’t nobody got time for that!”
Now, I’m telling you all this so that you have an idea of what I was working with at the demolition derby. It was so hot. Unbearably hot. Like if Satan himself had walked by clothed in a Speedo and sipping a Piña Colada with an umbrella in it, I would not have been the least bit surprised. You would think that after 20-plus years of having this event, at some point the Lind Lions Club would have thought to themselves “hey, guys? You know what would be awesome here? Covered bleachers.” Now I’m not saying we get all crazy up in here with club suites and A/C. But, you know, some kind of roof-type thing couldn’t hurt.
Here is the part of the story that really counts. This is where the “Washington is not like Miami at all” part of it happens.
After sitting there for some time, maybe 45 minutes or so, I started to feel the warmth and the cold sweats. When I got to the fuzzy hearing I told my boyfriend that I really needed to get some water because I was about to go down. By the time I made my way through the crowd to the beverage tent I was starting to get the hazy vision and wobbly legs. I asked the lady at the beverage tent for water, which happened to be only $1 per bottle, and when I handed her my $20 bill she advised that she didn’t have change and I would have to go to the Beer Token stand to get change. The token stand couldn’t have been more than 8 or 10 feet away but to me, in that moment, it might as well have been in the next town. I started walking over to the token stand and felt my vision clouding over even more and knew I was about to drop. I quickly looked around and found one tiny, little spot of shade nestled between the Beer Token stand and a dumpster. At that moment, I just didn’t care. I had to sit or risk passing out right then and there. I hustled over to that shady spot and plopped down like the most ungracious sack of potatoes ever seen. (By the way, that dumpster was pretty clean and didn’t even smell. I’m just sayin’.)
As I was sitting there trying to gather myself and letting the unpleasant feeling pass, a girl that was standing a couple of feet over turned to me to ask if I was okay. I told her that I was, but I was just a little overheated and needed to get out of the sun. She said “you need some water.” I told her what had happened, that I had been on my way to do just that, but had to get change first. She then stopped a gentleman that was walking past us and asked him if he could break a $20. Fortunately he could. She then took one of the dollars and went over to the beverage tent and came back with a bottle for me. She stayed with me for a few minutes, making sure that I was feeling better, before returning to her seat. Before leaving she introduced herself as Robin. I remained there a while longer, sipping my water and waiting for the heatstroke to subside. At one point I tried to get up to go purchase another bottle but was still a bit loopy so I sat back down for a bit longer. After a few minutes I looked up and there was Robin again. She came over to see if I was doing better. I told her I was but just wanted to sit in the shade a bit longer. She went and purchased a water for herself and then came and sat next to me for a bit. We chatted for a few minutes about how miserably hot it was and how crowded the event was. Once I decided that I was well enough to return to my seat, we parted ways and I stopped by the beverage tent to get another water before returning to the bleachers. (In case you still don’t grasp how hot it was, I drank four – FOUR! – bottles of water before I finally had to use the restroom.)
And this is how I know we are now living in Washington, a state which I will swear up and down is home to the nicest people I have ever met in my life: I had a similar experience last year, while attending a parade on Miami Beach. It wasn’t particularly hot, but for me “a little hot” is enough to trigger an episode. I started to feel the wobbliness coming on as we were walking back home (literally 2 1/2 blocks from the parade site) and I had to sit down outside a café while my boyfriend went inside to get me a drink. Not only did not one person stop to ask if I was okay, a few of them even gave me dirty looks that easily translated as “oh my gaaawd… ugh!” I would guess they were assuming that I was inebriated or high or something of the sort.
So maybe to Robin it wasn’t a big deal that she got me that water or sat with me for a little while to make sure I was okay. Maybe that’s just Robin’s personality, to be kind and conscientious to other people’s needs. Maybe Robin is in the medical field and caring for someone comes second nature to her. I have no way of knowing. But what I do know is that in that particular moment, when I found myself in an unfamiliar setting feeling vulnerable and a bit scared, Robin was my light at the end of the tunnel(vision). She didn’t expect anything in return, and I think she might have even thought it was odd that I thanked her no less than five times. I don’t know where she lives or if she’ll ever see this post, but I really hope she does. I hope that fate or the universe or the internet fairies bring this to her attention because I will be forever grateful to the kind stranger that didn’t let me pass out in front of 500 drunken rednecks.
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