We had just completed a successful and very pleasant dinner meeting conducting 'some things looming' business. I was feeling rather pumped up. We agreed on the name of next Spring's exhibit, mentioned some Saturday Sampler business, discussed some things about Handmade Holidays, and basically talked shop for about three hours. Good stuff. So when I got into my husband's eleven year old manual transmission car and I couldn't quite get the gear shift to go into reverse, I did what every normal human being does: I pumped the clutch a few times, and kept trying, ignoring the warning bells flashing in my head.
I got out of the Applebees parking lot, navigated past the mall, on to the highway, and was cruising along when suddenly, my car was in neutral and the stick shift had no resistance. At this point, I should perhaps explain that many Pennsylvania roads have little to no shoulder, even on the highways. I'm not sure why, other than perhaps terrain dictated the roads eons ago, and we just paved over top of the horse trails. Managing to roll my husband's car into the excuse that passed for a shoulder of the road, I was dismayed to see half my car still sticking out into the lane. I was even more dismayed to discover my cell phone battery was nearly dead; just enough life in it to make one phone call.
I tried home first, figuring the Mr. would be home by then, or at the least, The Boy would pick up. I knew he was home, and then he'd give the deets to his father. I figured wrong. On the sixth ring, I hung up, and prayed that my phone would hold out for one more call. I called my father, Floyd. "Hey Papa, you think you can come rescue me?" Every time a car swooshed past, my car swayed side to side, "I'm not in a good spot," I said, and then proceeded to give garbled directions in my hyper-adrenalinized state. In the meantime, I dug through my purse, brilliantly remembering my Tom-tom was there, and the charger for that would work for my phone. I dialed the husband's cell phone, and miraculously, he had it on him, and it was charged.
"I'm stuck on the highway," I said.
"Oh no! What happened?" He asked.
I explained in detail the clutch, the stick shift, the rolling to a slow stop on the 'shoulder' and my precarious position. "Can you call Geico? We have roadside assistance. They'll send us a tow truck."
Shortly after I hung up with him, my father called looking for me. Apparently, my directions were lousy. Another five minutes, he pulled up behind me, assessed the situation and decided he was going to walk up and around the bridge I was facing to see if there was more shoulder on the other side. I was close to an off-ramp, and he figured that there might be more space as a result. "I think I'm going to use my truck to push you a little further so your butt isn't hanging out on the road anymore. It would make me feel better," he said.
"It would make me feel better too!" I said enthusiastically. I had just spent a good part of ten minutes imagining someone rear-ending me.
I watched as my father's truck slowly inched towards my rear bumper and felt a gentle nudge. After the third tap, he called out his window, "Do you still have your emergency brake on???" Oops. I took the brake off, and we began limping our way down the "shoulder" which was narrowing down to nothing the closer we got to the bridge. Calling out directions, Dad directed me around the bridge and on to a much wider shoulder. I was now at least a foot away from the lane where vehicles were still swooping past at incredible volume. "Where on earth is all this traffic coming from at 10:00 at night?" I asked. Meanwhile, my mother, who had just returned from our meeting to find no sign of my father began frantically calling his phone, my home phone... She came home to find signs of life, but no signs of his person. It was an understandable reaction.
I hadn't heard from Jeremy, my husband, in awhile, so I called the house phone. He was still on the line with Geico, who was still trying to find a tow truck. I wondered if it would have been faster to just find one ourselves and pay for the tow, rather than use road-side assistance. I hung up and told Dad what was going on. Leaning into my drivers side window, we talked about this and that for a good fifteen minutes before my phone rang. "Ray is coming to save you," Jeremy said.
At ten forty-five, my rescuer came with his big hook and flashing lights. He took my information, and my credit card number. Dad and I piled back into his truck and he drove me home. I walked into the door, greeted by my wild-haired husband. I could tell he'd been having a time of it at home.
"If the situation had been reversed," he said by way of greeting, "You'd have fallen apart."
"Gee thanks," I said. "As if what I went through wasn't traumatic?"
"No. It gets better. The lady on the phone was from Georgia."
"In other words, she has no idea where Reading is, or what it looks like, or where I actually was located on the highway. It was probably like playing whisper down the lane."
"Exactly." He said as he smoothed down his hair. "I had just gotten in the door, I hadn't had dinner, and I had a most pressing need to use the bathroom when you called. That alone would have made you a mess."
I had to concede that one.
"So while I was on the phone listening to the hold music, I noticed the toilet water was low and I flushed."
"And then I noticed Josh was still dressed and not anywhere near ready for bed. He hadn't taken his medicine, he wasn't in his pajamas..."
"He was still playing his video game,"
"Exactly. And since I had the girls with me at band practice, they were ALSO just now trying to get ready for bed..."
"And you were still on hold with the nice lady from Georgia."
"Yes. So after a bit she came back on the line and I asked her how many places she had called, and she said '38'" He imitated her accent perfectly, I'm sure. "And then I asked, 'how many more on your list?' She said, '42,' I said, '38?!? 42?!? Seriously?' " He flipped back into his Southern Belle Accent as he continued his story, "And she said, 'Well, a lot of them told me they refuse to drive in Reading at night' I said, 'seriously.'"
"The irony is, I wasn't any where NEAR Reading. I was on THE HIGHWAY. My best guess is that she was calling towing places and saying 'Can you tow someone in Reading?' and they tuned out," I said.
"You're probably right." Jeremy said, "So after a bit, I asked how far away she was calling for a truck. She told me as much as fifty miles away. I said 'fifty miles?!? That's practically Philadelphia! That's like an hour away!' So she told me there was this one for-pay place, and I said 'take it. I don't care if we have to pay up front and then submit the claim. Just take it.' And so she called Ray."
"I'm so glad you said that. I kind of wish we had realized sooner what was probably happening. I might not have sat so long. I'm pretty sure anyone would come to the rescue on the highway."
"I know! If she had called someone from out near Philadelphia, you'd have waited another hour."
I shuddered at the thought.