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.