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Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Sappy movies don't get all the happy endings

Alice Dersham's van picked a poor time to break down on her. But expert help arrived quickly.

This would never happen: You're about to lose your job when your old car breaks down. Along comes a kind stranger. He knows all about cars. Within an hour, your car is fixed. And it costs less than $20.
Oh, it might happen -- in a Christmas movie on the Hallmark Channel. Good luck in real life.
Ever had a bad day? Alice Dersham did, recently, but it quickly turned around. Yes, she was laid off Friday from her job as a contract worker for the Boeing Co. Even so, the Granite Falls woman is still smiling about what happened last week.
On Tuesday, Bryan Robbins was on his way home from work when he pulled into a Lake Stevens gas station.
"I looked over and saw a lady driving a minivan with the emergency flashers on," he said Friday. "She pulled into the parking lot, got out of the van, and stood just staring at it, looking defeated."
When steam and a scary smell poured from under the hood of Dersham's 1996 Honda Odyssey, she couldn't have found a better helper.
"I'm the director of automotive technology for the Edmonds School District," Robbins said. "I teach basic, intermediate and advanced auto technology at Meadowdale High School."
This is Robbins' first year as head teacher in the district's auto shop program, where he has been a paraeducator for six years.
It took no time at all for Robbins, 27, to pop the hood and diagnose the problem with Dersham's minivan. "It turned out to be a radiator hose that goes to the heater core. It failed, split all the way down. It let all the water out immediately," he said.
If Dersham had kept driving, he said, "she would have blown up the engine, blown the head gasket."
Whatever that is, repairing it would have cost Dersham far more than the $19.17 check she wrote when she and Robbins went to a nearby AutoZone store for parts he needed to fix her car.
"We got a new hose, new hose clamps and a gallon of coolant," Robbins said. "I think I was with her, all told, maybe an hour."
Dersham, 60, estimated that towing alone would have cost at least $100. A big repair bill "would have been devastating," she said. A previous fix for the minivan cost $1,200.
She has been an administrative assistant and a staff analyst for Boeing, and hopes to find another contract job. "I can't do that without reliable transportation," she said. "I'm not above taking the bus, but the buses don't run early enough to get where I need to go."
Without a job, she's in no position to buy another car.
"It's a junky old car, but every day I get out of it, it's a blessing," Dersham said. Her Odyssey's odometer reads 207,290 miles. "Hondas do that. I'm hoping to make it to 250,000," she said.
Robbins, who lives in Lake Stevens, said that unless he's late for work or a meeting, he'll stop to help any driver he sees with car trouble. Thankful and impressed, Dersham wants others to know something good can happen even in tough times.
"The faculty, parents and students of Meadowdale High School in Lynnwood are very fortunate to have Bryan Robbins teaching at their school," she wrote in an email to The Herald last week.
So it can happen. Your car breaks down, and the auto shop teacher shows up.
"What are the odds?" Dersham said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Story tags » Meadowdale High School People

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