Saturday, April 30, 2005

Breakdown Part 1: "What the________?"

Even though we are well into the new year, I have made a new resolution: I will no longer glare, sigh heavily, harrumph, or curse under my breath when I see or hear of a disabled vehicle on a freeway or bridge. Those poor victims of mechanical unpredictability used to earn my scorn -- such an easy target of ridicule and Schaudenfreude. Why can't they take care of their shit? Why can't they drive more carefully?

Well, those days are gone. Why, you ask? Because last Friday afternoon -- in the middle of a simmering mass of stop and go traffic, my brakes seized up. Shit! Stranded in the center lane, five miles and 25 minutes from home, I became a statistic for the radio traffic report and my heart dropped into my stomach. How did this happen? I take care of my shit. I'm responsible. I get regular oil changes.

The afternoon started out so well. My "to do" list had been conquered after a relatively productive week and I happily waved ta-ta to my co-workers, heading home early to spend the remains of a lovely spring afternoon with my beloved. He'd been holed up in our apartment for three days sans shower, sans razor, sans dignity, finishing an overdue writing project and we needed some time together out and about, hopefully culminating in a drink or two in the neighborhood.

As soon as I reached the freeway on-ramp, I sensed a problem. Normally when I leave the suburbs and head downtown, the traffic doesn't get bad until I'm halfway home. But when the line to get ON the freeway is crawling, to paraphrase Margo Channing, "Hold onto your hats, it's going to be a looooooooong-ass commute." Normally, I would have foreseen what I was getting into and taken a parallel route, but now there was no turning back and an attitude adjustment was necessary. So, I became calm: I turned on progressive talk radio (or was it NPR? I can't remember. I think the subsequent adrenaline rush erased a bunch of my brain cells). I eased into the natural rhythm of the traffic. Craaawwwllllll……….stop. Craaawwwllll………stop. Cra..stop! Goddamn! Those sudden stops make me nuts!

I tried to enjoy the scenery, absolutely clear blue sky, green trees along the roadside, and radio tales of much worse traffic on adjacent freeways. So, hey, this isn't so bad. It's gonna take a little longer to get home, but not forever. What should we do later? Go for a walk? For dinner? Find a movie? It's going to be hard to pick. Aaahh…going home early…what a good idea.

About half way there, I started to feel resistance when I let up on the gas, like some mysterious force was hitting the brakes. Eventually, the gas pedal wasn't revving up the car like it should and the car eventually slowed way down. This is when your heart starts racing because your car has now taken on a life of its own. It is NOT doing what you are TELLING it to do and you are in the MIDDLE of the fucking FREEWAY, Goddammit, and you are pretty close to HOME, and you DON'T know what the hell is going ON, and…THUD, SKOOOORCH. The car stops. FUUUUUUCK!

And I can't find the goddamned hazard lights! Where the fuck are they? I roll down the window to let the people behind me know I ain't goin' anywhere, frantically waving them along while I try to figure WHAT THE HELL TO DO NEXT! AAAAAAAGH!

After fumbling for fucking EVER, I finally hit the hazard lights and I can see disgust in the eyes of the drivers behind me. While I was in the thick of it, traffic seemed to crawl, but now that I'm stuck, cars fly past me and they're copping a major attitude. I can feel them glaring, sighing exasperatedly, harrumphing, and cursing under their breath. Yeah, Yeah, I hear ya'.The driver I feel most sorry for is the one unlucky enough to land nearest my rear bumper. She's trying to get around, but all the traffic coming up behind us makes it a life-threatening venture. I think her eyes hold more terror than mine.

I visualize my spine getting smashed like a fallen icicle when some distracted driver slams into me, then I take deep breath, pick up the cell phone, and call Triple A. I get the recording telling me they'll get to me when they can and as my blood pressure rises, a bald twenty something asshole with a vicious mouth races past and screams "Get out and push!" Oh yeah. The best course of action for me right now is to get out of my car, walk into rush-hour traffic in my 2-inch heels, and try to push my car somewhere.Why don't you stop and help me, you stupid jerk??!!?? Bite me!

And then, just like Cinderella felt when the prince on the white horse rode up to take her home to Tara, I see the flashing light bar of a big-ass white truck two or three cars away and -- don't ask me how I knew -- THEY WERE COMING FOR ME. The Triple A lady finally answers and starts asking me a lot of questions which sound so goddamned pedantic, I start to lose it and the panic rises in my voice, "I'm headed South on I-5 at the 45th street exit in the middle of the freeway….I don't KNOW what the exit number is!" Like I'm going to fucking LOOK at the exit numbers while my car sputters into a heap. Right!

The big-ass white truck slowly passes, enters my lane and backs up toward my car. Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please, take me away! Clad in white overalls (the symbolism in this experience is so cool) the two rescue guys exit the truck and come toward me. I meet them halfway and we try to figure out what the fuck is going on. Since the car won't move no matter how much we speculate, I don't know why we do this in the middle of the freeway, but we do.

They explain they are from the Department of Transportation (I will never begrudge another state tax dollar as long as I live!) and they were on their way to help another poor schmuck (my words, not theirs) when they saw me. They pull me over to safety in the nearby exit where I can wait for my tow-truck. They advise me to get back in the car and put on my seatbelt. They give me a comment card (trust me, when their boss gets my letter, they will get a commendation, a medal, and a friggin' pay bump) and an informational brochure. I thank them, tell them they saved my life (and honestly, they may have), and thank them one more time as they drive into the sweltering rush-hour morass.

I lean back in my seat and go over what just happened so I can call my boyfriend and tell him the story. Then I realize: from the time my car stalled to the time the DOT boys showed up was probably no more than two minutes. And I smile. And I breathe. Two minutes!? Stranded in the middle of a five-lane highway during rush-hour?! Jesus. I am so Goddamned lucky.

(to be continued)

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