Wednesday, April 12, 2017

How to cause a commotion on Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour

Perhaps you were on Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour yesterday and you had to drive around a broken-down car in the middle lane, inside which was a nicely dressed woman sobbing hysterically?

That was me.

I will admit that with regard to vehicles, I fit the worst female stereotypes. It is terrible, I know. I lived alone for six years, owned my own place, took care of all my bills and what-have-yous.

And still, when my muffler broke, I called my dad. When my dad offered to get my oil changed, I was delighted.

I take my car to the DMV inspection, and to get it fixed, and all that. But I find all these car things stressful. Maybe I make them worse than they have to be.

Remember when I broke my wheel and then rolled into that parking lot full of convicts?

Now, I feel the need to tell you that earlier in the day, I'd said my final goodbye to a dear family friend. I'd placed my hand on his forehead, silently wished him Godspeed, told him I loved him, asked him to say hi to my dad for me.

Grief, in the end, is all about us, isn't it?

So I had already been crying a good deal and was already an emotional wreck before my car broke down.

I called Nick (hands free, on speakerphone) from I-66 the second time that I put my foot on the gas but the car didn't respond. See, the first time it did that, it was brief. This little light that looks like a submarine but surely isn't, flashed on. And then my car went back to normal.

And then it happened again. And then went back to normal. He said to try and get home and then we would deal with it.

But then I got on Rock Creek, and traffic was so slow, stop and go. And at some point, my car stopped, and would not go, no matter what.

The submarine light, the battery light, and something else went on. But not the car.

At this point, I was maybe half a mile from home, in the middle lane.

I had this brief urge to get out of the car, get on the Rock Creek bike path I know so well, and go home. Car? What car?

People behind me started honking, because what kind of jerk just plain stops in the middle of Rock Creek Parkway at rush hour?

My windows were down, because even though my car had not been overheating, Nick kept asking, and it was a beautiful day and I figured why add extra stress to the unhappy engine by running the AC.

So my windows were all the way down when my car died. This detail matters because here's what I did next: I put on the hazards and started sobbing hysterically.

I mean, I was crying so loudly that people who passed me leaned out their windows to ask if I was OK. I could only nod because I couldn't actually breathe.

One woman very kindly said, "I hope your day gets better."

I called Nick, who very sternly told me to PULL IT TOGETHER AND BREATHE. This only made me cry harder, which I knew frustrated him and did nothing to calm me.


Once I was able to calm down a little, he said to call 911.

Which I did. The woman who spoke to me told me not to cry. But in a nice way.

Naturally, I continued to sob after hanging up.

And then two young and very fit guys came over to my window and said they were going to push my car to the side. They very kindly did.

Nick called again and said he'd organize the tow truck and call the car place, and where exactly was I and what had happened with the car?

So I said, "Well, I was driving, and then when I tried to accelerate it just went "Rrrrrrrrr!" and then the little light that looks like a submarine flashed and then it went back to normal but then it happened again and then..."

"You're going to have to explain to me what 'Rrrrrrrr!' means. And the light looks like a submarine?"

So I explained as best I could what the car had done and not done and that there is this light that looks like the Beatles' roundy Yellow Submarine with a periscope.

I think he said this may be the engine light. In any case, my explanation was enough to tell the car people and the tow truck.

And then he said to get out of the car, because cars often get hit from behind. Apparently this is a thing people know but I did not. Now I do.

At this point on the parkway, there was a small stretch of sidewalk and a low wall. So I sat on it, in my nice dress and wedge heels. But for the car with the hazards and hood, and I guess also the location, what with it being on a wall on the side of the road, I looked like I was waiting for a date to pick me up.

I wasn't crying anymore. But my phone battery was low. I put it on power save, and posted my status to Facebook.

Nick criticized me for this later, but I will tell you that I needed some support. And my friends are lovely. A couple of them so nicely offered to come get me.

I was wishing I'd brought a book. I should never go anywhere without a book. And phone power.

A number of police came by and asked if I had called 911 or had a tow truck on the way. One of them pulled over and gave me a flare and told me how to start it, in case it was dark by the time the truck came. He also helped me open my hood.

I can't tell you how many people looked over and asked if I was OK. Two cars pulled over and asked if I needed a ride.

They were either really kind or axe-murdery. You can't tell when you don't know people. But I'm going to go with kind.

By "going to go" I mean choosing to assume. I don't mean I would hop in the car with a stranger.

I will be honest and say that I did that kind of thing in my foolish youth and nothing bad every happened but I count myself lucky.

Eventually a tow truck pulled up behind my car. I waved and walked over.

Except that it was a random tow truck. I called Nick to ask him the name of the company, which turned out to not be this one. The guy said, "Cancel the other one. We're here now and we can take you."

I was tempted, because I was so tired of waiting, and starting to fret about it getting dark. In the dark, the nice guys who inquired about my welfare would start to seem threatening.

Nick wanted to speak to him, and after a brief conversation he said I would just wait for the truck we'd organized. Apparently the man said, "So you're just going to leave your wife on the side of the road?"

Ooh, manipulation.

And then, after another half hour or so, just as the sun was starting to sink and I was thinking I had to light the flare, a nice man named Max turned up in a very large tow truck with the correct company name on the side.

He asked what had happened and I didn't use the "Rrrrrrrrr" noise. He expressed sympathy for me sitting by the side of the road for that long.

And then I handed him my keys, thanked him, and walked off into the sunset.


  1. This is one of my absolute worst nightmares. Not just breaking down, but in a spot where cars are whizzing by and you can't get to the side of the road? AWFUL. Thank goodness for the kind men who pushed your car out of the way. And thank god it's over.

    1. It was SO STRESSFUL! I hadn't known it was one of my nightmares until it happened. I think I would be calmer if it happened again. I hope. Those guys were very kind. And I didn't have to worry about my kids as well, so that was lucky.

  2. And here I was just five minutes ago thinking where you were since past many days. Now I get it. I am glad you are safe after all that!

  3. Ok I am just reading this now for some reason but I do have small suggestion to think about. We have leased a car for the last five years and all my single girl friends lease their cars. It helps because they do all the maintenance, etc and road side assistance and in ND it has turned out to be a money saver (which it didn't use to be) Any way I am so Glad you made it home but you walked home in the dark?

    1. Lynn, I really like the car, we owe nothing on it, and I drive very little. This just happened to be a big driving day and then...this.

      The sun was going down but it was still light out. And I wouldn't walk in Rock Creek Park in the dark ever, but once out of the park, I was 1/2 mile from home, and I walk on those streets alone in the dark. With awareness but without fear.


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