I sniveled and whimpered to myself for about five more minutes. Then I got mad. Picking up my cell phone, I pounded “911” into the keypad and the State Police came on the line.
“Hi,” I said, trying to sound as calm and collected as I could given that my teeth were chattering and my lips were numb. “I’m stranded on the side of the road right off Exit 58 next to Route 2. I have no idea what town I’m in, but my car won’t start, my flashers don’t work, and I’m afraid I’m going to cause an accident.”
The dispatcher said, “Oh, yeah—I think your friend called a little while ago. No one’s shown up yet, huh?”
“Nobody knows what town I’m in!" I was whining again, but I was beyond shame. "They won't come!"
There was a pause, and I heard some computer keys clicking in the background. “Okay,” said the dispatcher, coming back on line, “according to this map, you’re in Lexington. I’ll patch you through to the Lexington Police.”
Another pause, then the Lexington Police came on the line.
“Hi,” I said. “I’m stranded on the side of the road right off Exit 58 next to Route 2. My car won’t start, my flashers don’t work, and I’m afraid I’m going to cause an accident.”
“You’re not in Lexington, Ma’am,” said the apparently clairvoyant new dispatcher. “You’re in Arlington. Let me patch you through to them.”
Lexington patched me through to Arlington, and I repeated my story, only to be told I was in neither Lexington nor Arlington. “You’re in Belmont, Ma’am.”
Overwhelmed, I began to cry again. “I don’t care where I am!” I bawled. “All I know is, if I stay here for another ten minutes I’m going to get killed!”
I don't know whether it was the tears or just police policy, but within five minutes, the Belmont Police were on the scene. Ten minutes after that, the Arlington Police showed up. After a brief conversation, they jointly determined I was, in fact, in Lexington. But at that point I didn’t care. They were there and I wasn’t letting them go.
The nice young policeman from Arlington let me sit in the back of his squad car until the tow truck arrived (did you know the rear seats in police cars are made of plastic? I guess in addition to being dishonest, crooks also suffer from frequent bouts of incontinence). I was just starting to get warm when a giant tow truck lurched into view.
I was saved!
The warmth and safety of my home was now tantalizingly close. With a happy “thank you and Merry Christmas” to the nice young policeman, I grabbed my purse and my laptop from the front seat of the car, gingerly climbed up into the cab of the tow truck, and introduced myself to the driver. “Mel” was a skinny, toothless, scraggly-haired man of indeterminate age who looked like a serial killer and smelled of grease and cigarettes. But Mel was my Savior. He held the keys to my liberation in his grubby, sweat-stained paws. To me, he was a god.
By now, the snow had turned to sleet and was thundering down in great icy chunks. “We’re only towing as far as our lot because of the weather,” Mel warned me as he threw his behemoth into gear and headed out onto the slippery roadway. “If you want your car to go somewhere else you’ll have to arrange that yourself tomorrow.” Because of his heavy Boston accent and lack of front teeth, that last sentence came out sounding like, “If thoo want yah cah to go thumwhere elth you’ll hafta arrange that yerthelth tomooo.”
I’m not sure what was more alarming. The fact that I understood him immediately, or that in my pathetic gratitude and desperation to get home I was completely willing to entrust him with what would undoubtedly be a horrendously expensive repair job. “I don’t care,” I said. “If you guys want to look at it tomorrow and give me an estimate, be my guests. In the meantime, can I call a cab when we get to your lot?”
Mel picked up his radio and called his dispatcher, who promised to have a cab waiting for me when we got to the lot. I settled back into the leather cushion, quite warm and comfortable now, and determined I was going to take a hot bath when I got home. I have a huge Jacuzzi tub in my apartment that I never use (I’m more of a shower person—in and out, that’s my motto), but tonight was going to be an exception—not only was I going to take a bath, I was going to light scented candles and play soft jazz while I was doing it! In fact, I had just decided I was going to have the cab driver stop at a CVS on the way home so I could pick up some bubble bath when the dispatcher crackled back onto the line:
“The cab companies are all closed down for the night. Over.”
I sat up. “What? What did she just say?”
“Looks like they’re shut down for the night,” said Mel, disturbingly unconcerned.
I was about to say something else—I have no idea what—when he took a sharp right and pulled into a parking lot in front of a dark, shuttered building. Through the sleet and haze, I could just barely make out the sign: Al’s Towing & Auto.
Then I realized what he had meant. Not only were the cab companies shut down for the night, so was Al’s Towing & Auto.
I wasn't saved after all. In fact, my nightmare had just begun.
"Isn't there somewhere I can wait inside while I try to call someone?" I asked, growing increasingly frantic at the prospect of trying to keep my laptop dry while standing unsheltered in the pounding sleet.
"''fraid not," said the suddenly non-Saviourlike Mel.
We sat there for a moment, deadlocked: Me refusing to get out of the truck, and Mel refusing to offer any assistance. Finally, he broke. Sighing grudgingly, he said, "There's a Dunkin' Donuts down the street a ways. I s'pose I could drop you there."
"Let's go," I said.
We lumbered back onto the road and shortly thereafter arrived at a miniature strip mall, bleak and barren but for the reassuringly familiar pink-and-orange Dunkin' Donuts logo shimmering through the darkness. Mel pulled into the lot and motioned for me to hop out. I thanked him more profusely than he probably deserved. God help me, I even tipped him ten bucks.
Clutching my laptop to my chest, I watched Mel and his tow truck creak off into the night. Then I turned and carefully picked my way through the slush-covered parking lot, following my nose toward the comforting scent of fresh coffee and doughnuts. I was debating whether I would order a chocolate-frosted coffee roll or a less-caloric French crueller when it suddenly occurred to me that I had skipped lunch. All I had had to eat that day was a half a bag of stale animal crackers from the office vending machine.
That clinched it. I was going to get both.
I got to the door and reached out to pull it open. My fingers had just made contact with the metal handle when I looked through the window and saw...nothing.
No polyester-clad workers wiping down the formica tables.
No pots full of coffee perking merrily on the burners.
No rows of colorfully frosted breakfast pastries lining the glass-topped shelves.
Nothing. Not even a fucking Munchkin to be seen.
And as the sleet hammered down on my un-hatted head, I realized that my years as a city dweller had left me unprepared for the harshest reality of suburban life: In the suburbs, when the weather is bad, everything closes early.