Friday, February 23, 2007

Brightly on the Turnpike

I couldn't help as I stared at the brilliant red glow thinking that it was absolutely beautiful. It was the kind of glow you imagine red hot iron being just before the black smith heads in to place the blows that will bend and shape that metal into the most beautiful weaponry; the blazing deep orange-ish red that in the hands of a skilled craftsman can become a beautiful thing. It was a warm, satisfying red glow. I remember thinking all of this followed quickly by, "If only it weren't the car engine."

Unfortunately for me however, as I stood on the Pennsylvania turnpike a mere three minutes before the kick-off of the most anticipated Superbowl a Chicagoan can hope for, it was in fact the glowing of the car engine, the death sign, the end, and it was very very cold. Sam had been the driver and just a few moments before the car came to a stop we were discussing the age of the car while trying to find an a.m. station that might be carrying the game. Suddenly a power surge, a dead whining, and loss of power had the car pulled over and us looking under the hood. To make it all a little more interesting the wind chill that night was about twenty-two below (Fahrenheit for you State dwellers) and I suddenly had to pee.

After standing for a few more minutes in the warmth of the melting engine it was decided that it would be better to get back into the car before we froze to death and so we did. At this point we had a problem. No cell phone, no flares, no emergency kit, no nothing and stuck on the turnpike. Sam started to scribble out a note to tape to the windshield but I figured that considering the 25 to 40 mph wind gusts, lack of tape, darkness, and freezing cold, that plan would not work out. Sam used a flashlight to write the note. I had an idea.

I grabbed the flashlight first and though about my father. My father, who in the particular situation would have been very proud of me, was convinced that I need to be a survivalist. I'm not really sure why, maybe at some point he had met my mother, but as it were he felt very strongly that I be able to get myself out of any kind of emergency situation. This lead to among other things him guaranteeing that I knew how to drive a stick, making sure I knew how to start a fire without matches, mathematics, and small amounts of Morse code. I figure at this point the only code we really needed was an S.O.S. so I started breaking up light beams out the back window while the car grew cold around us.

A few minutes later and freezing fingers I realized that we were going to freeze if we didn't change up the plan. Sam and I piled in the back seat with the warm fuzzy Chow dog between us, pulled up some sleeping bags we had packed for just this purpose, and hunkered down. I continued with the S.O.S and we discussed how long it might take us to get seen or get help; while this particular discussion waged a car suddenly pulled over and few minutes later I saw a flashlight responding and someone running back to meet us. When our help got to the door it took me only a second to recognize the person as an volunteer fire fighter equipped with among other things a walkie-talkie and a CB radio in the car. He called in about our problem and said he'd be back in a second. While we waited a junior member of the team (kid could not have been more then twelve) ran up to the car where a short sleeved shirt, sweat pants, and nice green John deer hat. He tapped on the window and when I rolled it down he said very politely "You folks just stay calm." I think at this point I would have been a bit more calm if the teacher in my didn't want to yell at the kid about getting out of the cold and putting a coat on. I managed instead to agree that we would and he ran back to the other car. The first VFD ran back to tell us he had called for help and someone should be out shortly.

They waited for a bit but eventually after twenty minutes and no help decided to push on. I already knew it might take a bit for us to get off the highway and so sleeping bags were arranged to cover the doors and most of the back of our head to prevent the chill that was setting in. Bags were further tossed from the front seat to the back and after some shifting around I finally decided that I had to pee badly enough to brave the extreme freezing and just go for it. Thank goodness for my Korean training. If nothing else I have learned how to take a nice squat without peeing in my shoes and this particular came in handy because ice pee on top of netherworld frostbite would not have worked to make me a happier camper.

About an hour later a tow truck finally pulled up to investigate us and give us a hand. I suspect that the tow truck waited until half time to actually answer the previous emergency call and I can't really say that I could blame him. Unfortunately since the engine was in fact melted radio was not accessible which prevented us from listening to the game as we sat in the back seat. After a few minutes of discussion we were moved from the back of the car to the front of a super warm tow truck and on our way down the road to Donegal, PA just outside of Pittsburgh. The car was dropped at a just of the turnpike mechanic and I was taken first to a motel to make arrangements for the night that would include us staying in a room that permitted dogs.

Of course, the motel did not permit dogs, however I was able to find in the long haired stringy stoner behind the counter and instant comrade. A few minutes later and a twenty-five dollar bribe shorter a room was opened up with unlimited phone access and an extra bed for the dog. The gods smile upon the happy stoner, and I must say that Earl, if you are out there reading this, may the smile well upon you. When you light up I hope you buds glow as brightly as car engine melting on a cold winter night.

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