Roadside assistance

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 partially full.

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 window.

“ 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 long night.

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.

-Missy Votel




News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index