I guess you could say
it was a premonition. As we drove north on Highway 550
in a borrowed truck loaded down with provisions from
an after-work Farmington run, I was nagged by the fact
that everything had gone a little too smoothly. In a
feat of clockwork-like efficiency, we had gotten in and
gotten out in record time. And now, at a little past
11 p.m., we were headed home. About five miles before
Farmington Hill, my suspicions proved correct: My husband
announced we were “losing power.” He downshifted
the powder blue, barely vintage Ford pickup in hopes
of recovering, but to no avail. As the needle dropped
precipitously, he managed to guide her onto the shoulder
with her last dying breath. He tried in vain to get her
to turn over, but she flatly refused.
Being someone who is barely capable of popping the hood,
let alone diagnosing engine problems, I had little to
offer except that it likely wasn’t the battery
because the radio was still working.
The possibility of running out of gas also was ruled
out. Although the gas gauge rested firmly on “E,” we
had put 12 gallons in the tank prior to our departure,
and a shaking of the gas tank confirmed it was at least
We deduced that, in addition to a broken gas gauge, we
had a shot carburetor. It also was deduced that, with
our cell phone safely tucked under the seat in our Subaru
back in Durango, we were essentially screwed. We sat
in silence for a few minutes, assessing the situation.
There was a darkened house a few hundred yards to the
right, separated from the road by a barbed-wire fence
and a barking dog. To our left was nothing but desolate
road. After playing out the scenario of knocking on a
startled, possibly gun-toting stranger’s door at
11:30 at night – provided we made it past the barbed
wire and snarling dog – we opted for the road.
Without further discussion, the spousal unit hit the
flashers, got out of the truck and assumed the thumbs-up
position. It was a clear night, and the cold was biting – something
we hoped would work in our favor in the sympathy department.
But after he was passed by several SUVs, which crossed
the yellow line at a high rate of speed just to avoid
him, I realized it was time to call out the heavy-pity
artillery: the pregnant woman. Seeing as how I was almost
seven months along, I was practically guaranteed the
next ride that passed. However, after an endless stream
of more speeding cars, my teeth began to chatter uncontrollably,
and we knew it was time to implement Plan B. After briefly
considering forming a human road block, we instead turned
up our collars against the cold night air and grudgingly
made our way toward the sound of the barking dog.
We had gone about 50 feet when a beat-up, ’80s-era
Olds with New Mexico plates passed in the opposite direction.
The car slowed to a stop, and the driver cracked her
What’s going on?” she asked.
We explained we were broken down and hedging on hypothermia,
and she offered her assistance.
We know what that’s like,” she said.
Turns out she and her passenger, both nursing home workers,
were heading to the nearby RV park they temporarily called
home after a night on the job. Since they were going
south, and we needed to go north, they offered the use
of their cell phone and even produced a phone book from
the back seat. Within seconds we had a tow truck on the
way, and once again our luck had taken a dramatic shift – this
time for the better.
The couple offered to stay until help arrived, but we
assured them they had done enough already, thanked them
profusely and said goodnight.
We returned to the truck and anxiously awaited the tow
truck’s arrival. During the next 30 or so minutes,
we half expected to see a state trooper or sheriff’s
deputy pull up and check on our welfare. Surely, out
of the dozens of cars that passed, some Good Samaritan
had called the authorities to report a man and a pregnant
woman – or at least a very large woman – stranded
in the cold. But the cops never came, and soon we were
loading old blue up for the haul home and an end to a
And while I was grateful for the couple that let their
compassion overrule their suspicions, I also was perplexed
by the dozens who didn’t. Perhaps most troubling
was that I saw a bit of my own behavior reflected in
theirs. I had sworn off picking up hitchhikers (ski bums
excluded) years ago, so how could I fault others for
possessing the same attitude? One need only turn on the
TV or pick up a paper to learn that stopping for strangers – particularly
ones on a deserted highway in the middle of the night – is
not a good idea. And by the same token, anyone who listened
to his or her mother knows not to get into a car with
strangers. It’s just common sense.
But what doesn’t make sense is that we apparently
have let what was once well-meaning advice turn into
full-blown paranoia. We keep our power windows and doors
locked, our eyes forward and our foot on the pedal. And
while this may be fitting behavior for Miami, I believe
it is a sad day when a Western town that claims to pride
itself on its “Howdy, neighbor” ways follows
suit. And what’s even sadder is that the only ones
willing to help someone down on his luck are those who
are – or recently have been – there themselves.
Strangely enough, I was not perturbed by the inconvenience
of the incident – even when I found out the cause
of the “breakdown” was operator error (who
knew the truck had two gas tanks?) Rather, I saw it as
a divine intervention of fate, one of life’s little
lessons. And while some would say the main message is
to make sure you’re running on a full tank, I would
argue they’re missing the bigger picture (not to
mention setting themselves up for karmic retribution).
The point is that sometimes we have to look down from
our metal-sided, leather-upholstered towers and beyond
our own windshields. So will I now make a one-woman crusade
to pick up every hitchhiker in the Four Corners region?
Probably not. But I will make an effort to help those
in need – whether it be an offer to call a tow
truck or police, or just making sure everything’s
OK. Oh, and remembering the cell phone probably wouldn’t
be a bad idea either.