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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Tow Truck Trouble II: The Reckoning

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Not 48 hours after the tow truck theatrics in our condo complex, a drama that pitted villainous truck drivers looking to make a buck against a heroic citizenry standing up for its rights, I found myself at the mercy of the villains.

I drove out at 9:30 in the evening to pick up my mother-in-law from a CPR class she's taking at the local chapter of the Red Cross. I took this drive in a car that has never, in seven years, stranded anyone anywhere, but that had been rather finicky throughout the week with respect to its ignition switch. For three or four days prior, I had been forced into a ridiculous ritual to simply start the car: insert the key into the ignition, attempt to turn it, fail, then jiggle the key violently in the ignition until it turns. The ritual never persisted past, say, five seconds.

I sat in the Red Cross parking lot waiting for the class to let out, listening to the radio and enjoying the air conditioning. After waiting about five minutes, my conscience got the better of me and I turned off the car. How could I have known the nearly five-hour ordeal such a simple decision would effect?

As you certainly have guessed, the key wouldn't turn anymore. Only minutes after turning the car off I tried to turn it back on and failed. And failed, and failed, and failed. Finally my mother-in-law appeared, as did all of her classmates. I explained the difficulty calmly, even while violently shaking the key in the immovable ignition switch. Sweat was trickling steadily down my forehead.

Finally I called M (my new shorthand for the wife) to bring me the other key for the car. You see, this sticky key problem dogged us about a year ago until I went and got a new key. So, obviously, the other key would work. M got the baby out of bed, put her in the carseat, and drove the 1.5 miles to the now empty Red Cross parking lot.

No go. That key didn't work either. So we called the roadside assistance service we pay for through our cell phone provider. They said a tow truck would be there in 20 minutes or less. So I sent M home with her mother and the baby while I stayed to wait for the truck. It arrived around midnight, but the driver took one look at the narrow driveway leading back to the parking lot and shook his head, "nuh-uh."

"I no can do it," he explained with a shrug of his shoulders. "Truck is too big. You need smaller truck. My company no have. You ha' to call a diff'rent company." Then he left.

I redialed the roadside assistance service and explained the increasingly complicated situation: key won't turn, wheels are locked, driveway too narrow. She put me on hold for nearly thirty minutes while she appealed to nearly every tow truck company in the San Gabriel Valley. Finally she shared with me the good news that a smaller truck had been dispatched and would be there within the hour.

I don't know how long it's been since you sat in a deserted parking lot by yourself after midnight. It was a first for me. With no radio and no company, I thought about Chris McCandless, the subject of the John Krakauer book and Sean Penn film Into The Wild, a young man who ventured off into the Alaskan wilderness by himself at age 24. "Surely there is some virtue in this," I said to myself. "The isolation, the silence, the stillness. This is only making me a better person, less hurried, more flexible, more patient."

But I couldn't shake the bald outcome of McCandless' sojourn: he died. Alone. In an abandoned vehicle.

Help finally arrived an hour later that the roadside assistance operator said it would, now 2:30 in the morning. The husky driver reached under the car's hood, disconnected the transmission, chained up the car's front end, and loaded it onto the reclined bed of his truck. I watched with strained interest, even as I mentally sketched out the Wiffle Ball dimensions of the parking lot (if you hit from here, on top of the building would be a double, over it a home run. If you hit it the other way you'd have to get it through that tree for a homer . . .). We towed the car to a garage near the condo complex and left it in the empty lot. Then the generous driver ported me the half-mile down the street to the condo complex.

So, to whoever in the tow truck cosmos reads my blog and was offended by the implications of that earlier post: I'm sorry. I see now the benevolence of your profession. I will never insult you again.

Postscript: it was the keys. We paid a mechanic $175 the next day for three hours of labor that revealed that verdict.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 7:36 AM


Wow. Couple hours in a parking lot in southern California = Frostbitten death in Alaskan wilderness.

I will keep you in my prayers for deliverance and protection from the grave threats associated with your life journey. :)
commented by Anonymous Point of Order, 2:59 PM  
Thank you.

I don't think McCandless was frostbitten though.
commented by Blogger Not Prince Hamlet, 6:48 AM  

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