Rescue

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I don’t believe in angels, but I wanted a picture for today’s post, and a guardian angel seemed appropriate. I could have stopped and photographed the place that’s the subject of this post on my way home this evening, but I was in the wrong lane, and anyway, a parking lot is a parking lot.

I was driving home one evening last October. I’d stopped at a red light, waiting to turn left. The light changed, I put my left foot down, and nothing happened. The clutch was stuck. In true Washington fashion, all the drivers behind me leaned on their horns. I tried again. Nothing. I put on my hazard lights and called AAA road service. I gave my exact position.

“So you’re on King’s Highway?” said the AAA representative.

“No, I’m on northbound Richmond Highway in the left turn lane at the traffic light that is at the junction with King’s Highway,” I repeated patiently.

“Okay, ma’am. I have you on southbound Richmond Highway.”

We went around like this for a while, and in the end, AAA said they would have a tow truck to me in three hours. I pointed out that it was 6 p.m., rush hour, and I was blocking traffic. AAA said they couldn’t help that and recommended I call the Alexandria police.

I did as advised. The Alexandria Police Department said they’d dispatch someone. Fifteen minutes later, I called again. This time I told the police that I was standing on the median waving traffic around my car (which was true) and that I was scared (which wasn’t, but I thought it might get action). Five or so minutes later, a police cruiser showed up and pulled broadside to the traffic to block the road. The two cops pushed my car, with me steering, into the parking lot—the one I didn’t stop to photograph today. I coasted to a stop in the entry way to the parking lot and looked in my rearview mirror for the cops. They had already gone.

So there I was, the only car in a large parking lot for a Chuck E Cheese children’s restaurant that obviously isn’t doing well and a recently closed craft supply store. It was getting dark. The best thing to say about the area is that is it’s marginal. Two men, who’d been sitting on a curb at the side of the parking lot, started walking towards me.

At this point in the story, my friends start to roll their eyes.

The older of the two men (I am not good at this but I would say in his fifties) said, “We saw the police push you in. What’s wrong?” I explained.

“We’ve got to get you to a safer place,” he said. So I steered and the two men pushed me into the parking lot proper.

They asked me what I was going to do. I said I’d called AAA.

“Mike and I’ll stay with you until they arrive,” said the older man. “It’s not safe for you to be here alone. Some of the people around here are on drugs or they’re drunks.”

I said that it could be as long as three hours.

“That’s okay,” he said. “We have nothing else to do. We’re homeless.”

Then Mike said that he used to work for a AAA-affiliated garage in Alexandria and he could see if their tow truck was available. I handed over my cell phone and he called, but the tow truck was already committed.

Ron, the older man, said he knew a little bit about cars and would I like to open the hood and let him take a look. Why not? He told Mike to get in the car, and he fiddled under the hood. Between the two of them, they got the car started (and Ron, incidentally, correctly diagnosed the problem).

“How far do you live?” Mike asked. I said about four miles. Mike said he thought he and Ron could get me home. If the car crapped out, they’d get it going between them—however many times it took. He showed me his driver’s license.

“But how will you get back here?” I asked.

“We’ll take the bus,” said Ron.

So we set out, Mike driving and Ron in the back.

“I haven’t always lived like this,” Mike told me. He said he had enlisted in the Army, and he’d be in basic training the next month. His recruiter had told him he’d be ahead because he had some college credits.

Mike nursed the car home, second gear all the way.

“Most people wouldn’t have trusted us to do this,” said Ron.

“How could I not?” I said. “You are such gentlemen.”

We shook hands, and they went off to catch the bus.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, I gave them all the cash I had, which was $30 (and I wish I’d been carrying more). But I am absolutely certain that they would have helped me even if I’d had no money to give them.

In the course of my telling this story, my friends’ eyes roll more and more. They ask if I wasn’t afraid. The answer is no, not for a moment. Maybe I am naïve, but when I saw them walking towards me, I had no apprehension, and until my friends pointed it out to me, it didn’t occur to me that there was any reason to.

“Most people wouldn’t have trusted us.” I am so very, very glad I did.

Rescue isn’t always a knight in shining armor on a white charger. Sometimes it’s a pair of homeless men.

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7 Responses to Rescue

  1. mariemcc says:

    I don’t think you’re naïve. I think you trusted your instincts, which told you there was nothing fearful about these two men. A wonderful story and well told.

  2. Alison says:

    I agree with Marie.

  3. Kirk says:

    Passante, I’m going to be verbose. This is one thing that happened to me. I could tell others. And I’m going to be honest. I suspect there really are miracles….

    06.05.98: My night vision isn’t good, so I tried to find ride to Bedford, a small town in rural Virginia, for my friend, Phyllis’s, retirement party. I could make it going because it would still be daylight, but coming home, it would be dusk or worse. But arrangements were hard to make. I decided to go it alone and leave early enough to beat the night. The return trip was just a simple matter of backtracking over ground I had driven to work daily for years.
    The dinner progressed. It got later and later, but finding the restaurant had been so easy I felt I could afford to stay. It was getting dark when I got up to go. I was surprised at how little I could see. Exiting the parking lot, I had to turn left, but was I turning onto a two-way street or a one-? I turned. Two-way. I was okay. I made the next left at the next light. So far, so good. Then a right at the second light. I couldn’t read the signs. I passed the turn I thought should take. It didn’t look right. Now, lost in the night, I drove slowly around a town with no traffic, a town shut down for the evening.
    I saw a light in one store. I turned in and parked in the deserted block-long parking lot in front, went in and asked directions. “Turn right out of the lot and go two blocks. Then you will see a sign. Turn right. Go another few blocks. You see another sign. Turn left.” Etc. Etc.
    I returned to my car. Another car sat beside it, on the driver’s side. The only other car in the lot. A slender boy with dark eyes and short dark hair stood leaned against the door on the rider’s side. Since I had to squeeze by him to get into my car, it was easy to say, “I’m trying to find Rt. 43 South. I’m lost, and the directions I was given are confusing.” I repeated them. He confirmed them, but it was all just too much. I said, “Listen. I am really turned around. Could you lead me to 43 South?” “Sure.” I looked inside and saw the driver, another slender high school boy, just sitting. “Don’t let me lose you,” I said. “Oh, don’t worry,” he said, “You won’t. The speed limit in town is only 15, and they enforce it.” We got in our cars. I followed them through a maze turns I would never have managed alone. They waved to me as planned when they turned off. I was on Rt. 43 South.
    I drove between 35 and 40 mph for miles. Nothing looked familiar. I couldn’t see the side of the road well enough to know whether I could pull over without going into a ditch. I couldn’t read the signs. I drove so slowly memory didn’t help. I had no idea of distance I had gone. Had I passed the turn to Altavista? I saw a sign. The writing looked long—like it could be “Altavista.” I passed that turn, praying all the way. I passed another couple of signs that seemed to say “Altavista” (but it could have been “Leesville.”). Another sign. I turned to the right just beyond it, it looked slightly familiar. One or two cars had been behind me. No one flashed lights. No one honked.
    I made another turn that seemed correct. Part of my car was on gravel. I didn’t land in the ditch. A light rain was spattering the whole time. Now a patchy fog appeared. I was on the right road. I drove and drove. After awhile, a line composed of a truck and about six cars was behind me. I couldn’t pull over. I couldn’t go faster. One false move and I was stranded. Miles from help. No phone. No one flashed. No one honked.
    Even the last few miles were unfamiliar in that messy night. I kept hitting patches of fog where I had to dim my lights in order to see at all. Then I was home. Every turn I made after leaving Bedford had been correct. Were they angels?

  4. mll says:

    I enjoyed reading that story. May I say “God bless those men” ?

  5. Elisabeth says:

    This was a great story, Passante, and we were treated to another good one by Kirk. I totally believe in trusting your instincts with people, but I may not be as trusting as you were on that day.

  6. Kate says:

    It’s not just a good story; it’s a great story. Too bad the world now seems to be fraught with danger in so many ways. Trusting is so much better than fearing.

  7. Dan Ward says:

    What a great story!

    It has been my observation that people who are trusting are generally also trustworthy… while people who are not trusting are generally less worthy of trust.

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