Saturday, February 14, 2009

I'm still standing

They all woke up early yesterday. Even her, considering she wasn't going in to the office. The three of them were up and out the door at 8:45 am, due in Queens at 10 for a funeral. The rugrat's boyfriend had found out the night before that a very good friend of his had died in a head-on collision. A young 22 year old woman, who left two little ones behind. Estranged from most of her family, she'd been fairly alone for the last few years. The bf later said that he could tell they'd used a lot of makeup to make her presentable for open-casket.

The plan was that she would drop them off for the funeral and find a coffee shop to get some paperwork done. What she found was a mcdonald's, but it would do. The music was way too loud, and there was a group of about a dozen 'seniors' who looked to be in their sixties and seventies hanging out talking and laughing at one end of the restaurant. They were relaxed they way people are when they spend a good deal of time somewhere -- like they 'own' it, like it's their place.

She spent almost two hours there, completed reading journals and commenting on them for one of her classes. She had just started reading a chapter in a text book for next week when rugrat called and said the funeral was over. She packed up, hit the restroom, and picked them up. They hadn't eat, so she ran them back to the same mcdonald's -- drive thru this time -- to get them something to eat. Then they headed for the freeway and the drive home, so rugrat could get ready for work and she could get numerous bits of work done around the house.

That was about 12:15. And that's when the car died -- just before the turn to the freeway entrance. It had been cutting out when rugrat would take it to work, for a week or so now. But since it hadn't happened to her, she hadn't been particularly concerned. She'd thought it might be the battery, and that was one of the things she'd planned to do that afternoon -- buy and install a new one. But now there they were, stalled in the turn lane, hazards on, cars rushing around them.

It'll start in about 20 minutes, rugrat said. And the check engine light will go out. And it did start in 20 minutes, so they got themselves onto the freeway to hightail it home. Only the check engine light didn't go off as they drove. And on the van wyck expressway, in between exits to the LIE, they hit bumper-to-bumper traffic. and the car died, in the far right of three lanes of traffic, with a fourth lane on their right merging in. At about 1:00.

They sat there on the VW, cars creeping around them, thankful that at least they were in slow-moving traffic. Although it amazed them, the number of people who would come up behind them, see their hazards blinking, and yet still pull up on their bumper instead of going around.

So, a call to AAA was made, and it went something like this, sans the frustration of the moment:

--We need a tow from Queens to Yonkers. We're on the VW expressway.
--I'm sorry, that's a state road, and AAA isn't allowed to tow cars on state roads. It's a state law. They have franchise tows on state highways.
--I thought AAA covered me anywhere in NY.
--It does, but we can't pick up on state roads. You have to call the state tow number and pay to be towed off the state highway, then we'll reimburse you.
--How do I get a tow truck then?
--If you'll hold, I'll try to find the state highway number for you to call.

The woman does come back with two numbers, one a toll-free line. She calls that one, and finds herself on the state thruway line that provides info on ez passes and roadway conditions. Fat lot of good that did her. The second got her to an actual person:

--AAA gave me this number. I'm stalled on the VW in Queens and they say they can't help me, that I need a local tow. They said you were who I should call to get the local tow.
--We don't do that, but here's a number you can call.

She called the number:

--[insert explanation previously given]
--We don't do that at this number, but maybe they do at the city level. I'll transfer you, hold please.

The person who picked up at the transfer:

--[insert explanation previously given]
--Oh, we don't handle that here. There are tow companies who are franchised for sections of the state highways, and they drive the highways looking for stalled vehicles. You just have to wait for one to come.
--[insert ever increasing fear and frustration, while trying to stay calm and respectful] We've been here for 15 minutes and several tow trucks have driven by, but none has stopped. How do I know which one is the right one? What am I supposed to do? I don't know which tow company to call to get off the freeway.
--I understand. If you'll hold, I'll try to find the local tow company that's franchised where you are.
--Thanks for holding ma'am, I have the name and number of the tow company that has the franchise for that spot on the freeway.

She called the tow company and they said they'd have someone there in 20 minutes. About ten minutes after the call, a police car crept up behind her. See, her car had been blocking traffic throughout the numerous phone calls.

Rather than get out of the car, he used the loudspeaker, telling her to put her car in neutral and steer for the edge of the highway. He used his car to gently push her car to through traffic to the side and up beyond the merging lane to a shoulder, then stopped and told her to hit her brake.

Then he got out of the car with a stack of flares in his hand. He brought a few to her and asked her if she'd ever used them. Of course not. So he showed her how to pull the plastic from around the sides, pull of the striking cap, and light the flare. Then he motioned for her to put hers beside the car toward the front, while he did the back. Just as she got out of the car to place the flares, and as he was asking her if she'd called a tow truck (as if she should have known how to go about that), the truck drove up.

She didn't have to set the flares, and when she motioned to the cop -- who'd gotten back in the car after setting only one flare -- to ask if he wanted them back, he shook his head no. So she now has three flares on the floor in the front passenger seat.

The tow truck told them to stay in the car, and he proceeded to hook up and tow the car off the highway and down to the street below. There's nothing quite like sitting in a car that's being towed off a highway. The rugrat called it a bit like a carnival ride, except that every deep dip in the rough road hurt and they cringed to think of potential damage to the rear of the car.

The charge for the tow: $80.20. They barely covered the cost by pooling all their cash.

Now, they needed to get from the street to home. Which meant another call to AAA, at about 2:00:

--My car has stalled and I need a tow truck to get from Queens to H--.
--OK, we'll set that up. Are there others in the car with you?
--Yes, two others.
--The tow truck can only carry two at the most; you'll need to make other arrangements for at least one of the other passengers.
--How in the heck do we do that? We came here for a funeral, for gosh sakes, how are we supposed to get home?
--I could help you call a taxi.
--You may not be from downstate and don't know the area, but a taxi from Queens to H- would run about $200. Clearly I can't afford that. Never mind, I'll figure something out, just send the tow truck.
--OK, and where exactly is it going to?
--To my home. I can't afford to get it fixed right now.
--Are you sure you don't want to tow it to a mechanic? AAA has a policy that we cannot tow the same vehicle twice for the same problem.
--Are you freakin' kidding me???? My god, this is unbelievable. Never mind, there's a mechanic two blocks away from my home, I'll push the damned thing if I have to. Just send the tow truck.

They desperately needed a bathroom, and asked at the nearest business -- a new car place, ironically -- who were very nice. It was key not just because they all had to pee, but for her, it was aunt flo visiting, which meant near hemmoraghic that required hourly bathroom trips. Yes, TMI, but it will be important later inthe story.

And the rugrat and bf had to call a friend from Yonkers, who'd just arrived home from the funeral, to come all the way back and pick them up. And then ensued a series of texts and phone calls, as rugrat tried to get someone to fill in for her at work until she could get there. The friend finally arrived at about 3 and drove them home.

After a few update calls from the new tow place and AAA letting her know that major traffic was delaying the tow, it finally arrived at about 5 pm. That's three hours without a bathroom, folks. Just so you know. An older man, limping, with an even older -- it seemed -- truck, that actually stalled once when they started the tow. He was a bit condescending -- ok, more than a bit -- asking questions like 'are you sure you know how to get where we're going?' Um, hello...we're going to my home. I've lived there for 11 years. I kinda think I know how to get there.

He pulled up the car onto the flatbed and off they went, stopping for fuel for his truck. Traffic was indeed horrific, on the cross bronx. Once they went north on the major deegan, the road cleared and they made better time. She directed him first to the cash machine in town, since she had to cover the toll over the whitestone both directions -- and it's more for a truck than a car. $23 more, on top of the $80.20.

After an excruciating ride -- the old truck hit every spot in the road, she hadn't had a bathroom break, and his conversation consisted of derogatory remarks about mexicans with liberal use of the word retard to describe his employees and advice for her along the lines of finding a rich old man to take care of her so she wouldn't have to work anymore-- she finally arrived home at 7 pm. Five hours without a bathroom.

He pulled her car off the flatbed and she gave him directions to get back to the major deegan (trucks can't go on the saw mill or the hutch). Since he'd spent some time complaining about some employee who couldn't find his way even with a gps, she figured he could follow her instructions -- right, right, right, then left. But as she walked up to her apartment, she heard the truck going south. He turned left instead of right. Oh well.

She ran up the stairs to the bathroom, only to discover that she needed a shower. Badly. Thanks aunt flo.

Then she ordered pizza. 'Cause she sure as hell wasn't cooking after all that.

elton (check out the guitarist):

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