Monday, November 19, 2007

The Tale of the One-Armed Tow Truck Driver

What you are about to read is true. It happened to me this weekend.

So on Saturday, while leaving the gym, my steering wheel started to shake. I immediately suspected something was wrong with my tire, but continued to drive on it, waiting for the tire pressure light to come on -- which it did, just as I got home. Sure enough, my left front tire was flat. Fortunately, there's a tire place down the road, so I slowly drove my Mini (which is Royal Taupe and known as Roger) there as the tire was not completely flat. A guy at the place said they didn't have any tires that would fit my car but he'd patch mine up that afternoon.

Three hours later...

I pick up my Mini, which is only two years old and has less than 17K miles on it, and check out the tire, which looks OK. But I just have to ask the guy, because I am a woman, and I don't entirely trust the guy, and I am going into NYC on Sunday, can I drive on this tire to NYC tomorrow? The guy says "no problem." So, of course, because, a) I'm a woman and b) this seems way too good to be true, having cost me only $4.19, I say, Are you sure? And, How long will the patch hold for? His response: "for miles." So I ask, How many miles? And he says, "thousands of miles."

So Sunday morning, I head off to NYC, which is approximately 50 miles away. It is my first weekend day outing on my own in, oh, maybe a year (pathetic but true), for a fun brunch in TriBeCa that took me months to coordinate (can you hear the tiny violins playing? I can) and within minutes, I feel my steering wheel pulling to the left. But do I stop and check my tire? No. Because I am convinced that I am just paranoid.

Thirty minutes later, things gets worse. But do I stop at the Greenwich service area? No. I am on a mission.

Ten minutes later, the tire blows. Fortunately, I am able to safely steer off onto the shoulder. Unfortunately, I am on the Hutchinson River Parkway, where the shoulder is about as wide as I am (OK, about as wide as my Mini), just in front of the sign for Exit 19/Wilmot Road.

So I calmly call Mini Roadside Assistance, and 10 minutes later I get an operator, probably based in North Dakota or India because the words "Hutchinson River Parkway" do not register. After putting me on hold for several minutes, she kindly informs me she cannot help me because I am on the Hutch (which I know), and no trucks are allowed on the Hutch, and that I need to call a special number. so I ask her, Who is it I am calling? She does not know. "Someone who can help you," she says. Great.

So I call the number. Turns out, it's the Westchester County Police. The officer or dispatcher is polite, takes down my information, and says he'll send help. (I then call Kenny, my spouse, and ask him to call both my lunchmates and cancel, so I can keep my cell phone clear. Kenny and Abby, btw, are having a grand time, playing games at a local arcade and then going out to lunch.)

About 10 minutes letter, a police car (a Ford Crown Victoria) speeds into view. Officer Grasso (whose name I only found out much later) gets out and together we take a look at my car and try to figure out where my spare is. And no, it wasn't obvious. It is under the car. We -- okay, HE gets it out, and we stare at it. Apparently, Westchester County Police officers are not allowed to change tires. Great. But, he says, there's a tow truck coming. Should be here any minute. I am very excited. Maybe I can make it to NYC after all! (HA!)

About that time, another cop car pulls up, this one an SUV. The officers confer. Traffic along the Hutch crawls to a standstill. A few minutes later the SUV pulls away. That leaves me and Officer Grasso to discuss life, the universe, and everything.

It turns out that Officer Grasso is a former football fan who now prefers NASCAR. We agree that Jimmie Johnson is a good driver but that there are too many pretty boys in NASCAR and in sports in general, many of whom are not talented but get by on their looks. We agree that talent trumps looks. He has two kids, 10 and 11, the former was a preemie, and his wife is a pharmacist. He is from Queens and is captain of his softball team.

He asks me what I do. I tell him that I write about entrepreneurs and their ideas and inventions and he mentions that he, too, has invented something, which I cannot disclose here, but I tell him he should pursue it.

Finally, after waiting by the side of the road for nearly 90 minutes, my feet (and other parts) freezing, and listening to Officer Grasso give me the gory details of various accidents he has seen on the Hutch and the Bronx River Parkway (thank you so much, Officer), the tow truck pulls up. And out walks a big black guy (looks like a football player) with a big smile and... one arm. You have got to be kidding me, I think. Am I on "Candid Camera"? But no, he is for real, and he could not be sweeter or more apologetic about keeping me waiting (said he had just gotten the call).

In FIVE MINUTES the guy had the spare on and had cleaned up the debris. AMAZING. I felt like an idiot. (For the record, I could change the tire on my Camry and on my Saab, just didn't know how to do it on a Mini and was too scared and cold to try on the Hutch on the narrowest of shoulders.) The tow-truck driver then informed me that the spare needed air, and I really shouldn't drive much on it. Great.

Officer Grasso then asks the guy if I can make it a few miles, to a service station further up the Hutch. The one-armed man says I should be OK.

So, with a police escort, I slowly, very slowly, get off at the next exit and get back on the Hutch headed north. Less than 10 minutes later, we are at the Mobil station, the one with the enormously obvious fake cell phone tower tree. Officer Grasso then proceeds to fill the spare and my right front tire with air -- and invites me out to lunch with him and his partner. I thank him but politely decline.

I returned home three hours after I left, hungry and depressed. But it could have been a lot worse. Not every day do I stop traffic on the Hutch or get asked out to lunch by a cop. And hey, both the Giants and the Jets won their games that day (though I'm not sure about Jimmie Johnson -- forgot to check).