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In Traffic, No One Can Hear You Scream

My Not-So-Moving Experience

The dashboard lights flickered on and off. Silence filled the van as the engine slowly died and this now useless hunk of metal rolled to a stop, Funny how quiet the middle of the Tri-Boro Bridge can be at rush hour. The cold, bleak darkness of the autumn night seeped into my soul, rendering me powerless and alone.

Of course I wasn't "alone' for very long.

Honking horns and raised voices snapped me out of my moment of self pity. New Yorkers are known for coming to the aid of those in distress, the concrete jungle does have a heart..."there but for the grace of God" and all that...

"Hey, move your van..."

But not this time.

The aforemetioned vehicle was a VW classic, a '60's icon, a mobile venue for pot parties, impromptu sing-alongs and sexual escapades. By now it was like some aging rock star, from a distance it appeared to be pretty much like it was way back when, but if you took a closer look you would see what a mess it was —if this van was "a rockin' " it was because of a faulty suspension — it was beat up, underpowered and it had a quirky electrical system.

I had spent the day moving my office, from 26th street to midtown. "Why pay to rent a truck," my father-in-law said making a generous offer the day before, "Save the money and take the van." It did stall out a couple of times when stopping at red lights, but all in all the move had gone well.

When faced with a difficult situation, survival experts advise that you break the task at hand down into a series of smaller, manageable steps and that you hyper focus on one step at a time.

Step #1, get me and the vehicle off of this bridge.

I jump out of the van and immediately start flagging down the passing cars. Nothing, not even eye contact. All I was trying to do was have someone relay a message to the police on the toll plaza, sort of a like vehicular version of a message in a bottle. You must realize that this was before smart phones or even cell phones were common. Who would I call anyway? The police, the coast guard, my family...what I really wanted was a pizza.

Looking down I noticed that I could see through the metal grating that formed the road bed, all the way to the gray frigid waters of the east river, which at this point seemed warmer than the response I was getting from my fellow motorists.

After waving my arms for several minutes a woman stops and rolls down her window. Finally, salvation, one decent person in this heartless sea of man and machine...

"Turn on your lights..." my erstwhile Mother Teresa snapped before she speeding off.


It was getting cold, really cold, "At least it's not snowing..," I muttered to myself.

On cue, the air was full of tiny dots of white, gently floating down as if they were being sprinkled on scene by a celestial salt shaker...the was universe mocking me. I looked up, straight up, past the girders, past the overhead lights, past the three quarter moon, pass the snow flurries and into the face of God....

"Thanks.." I said.

I get back in the van to warm up, not really knowing what to do next when a bright light filled the interior with a celestial glow. Apparently after having his little fun, God was sending help. We have that kind of relationship.

"You inside the vehicle..." I check the rear view mirror half expecting to see the angel Gabriel, but no, It was a police car! An NYC NYPD police car!! I'm saved!!!

I get out to greet my rescuer. He was still inside his car, all I could see was his massive head and shoulders.

"Move the van. You can't keep that here. Please return to the vehicle"

I approach, trying to explain that the van won't move...

"Do not approach the patrol car. Return to your vehicle. I'll push you off of bridge."

"Great I'll get back into the van and he'll push me off the bridge."

Push me off the bridge? What exactly did Officer Head mean? Luckily I'm in the left lane, too far away from the edge for him to push me INTO the river. I'll remain positive and assume he was giving me a push onto the toll plaza.

I took my position behind the wheel and waited.

"Thump" the police car makes contact with my rear bumper and pushes the van from behind. It starts to move. We pick up speed. Cars are moving out of my way, going faster now...we are off the the bridge!!!...Way to go Officer Head!

I turn to see the police car disengage from my vehicle and disappear into the night.

Now what? At this point, the van is a brick on wheels. I am coasting, without any power, into a toll plaza that might as well be a parking lot. Cars everywhere. I cannot slow down without stopping the van completely, I cannot speed up for obvious reasons...

Much like a pilot a disaster movie, I have only seconds to find a safe place to "put her down" or risk serious injury to other drivers, to the toll plaza, to myself.

A scan of the horizon reveals a tiny red light in the far left corner of the plaza. It's an unmanned toll booth, no long line of cars, just an open space where I can park! I lean on the horn as I roll down the window to frantically signal to the traffic behind me that I am moving aggressively to the left....I'm in position, I apply the brake, adjust the steering and...TOUCHDOWN!!!!

"The Eagle has landed!!! My own personal moon landing. Better that the moon landing! Neil Armstrong had huge government agency, 10 years of engineering excellence and Buzz Aldrin behind him. All I had was this beat up relic and a boost from Officer Head...that bastard!

A tap on my window. An gentleman in an impressive uniform, one I've ever seen before, complete with braids and ribbons and unidentifiable shoulder patches runs over to me.

"You have to move the van, You can't park here..."

I was beginning to wonder if this was a reoccurring problem. Do I look like the kind of person who is not cognizant of proper Toll Plaza etiquette or were there people who naively parked their cars on the bridge bon a regular basis? If this were the case, shouldn't they put up signs? "No Parking. Violators will be pushed off of bridge"

"My van won't start", I reported, "I can't move it."

"I'll get a wrecker to take you off of the plaza"

"A wrecker? The van's already in pretty bad shape..."

"A tow truck. He'll take you off of the plaza."

"Off the plaza to....where?"

"The street"

"The street? This is the South Bronx. Which street, where..."

"138th street..."

"Then what..."

"Your problem..."

Though I had been living in Westchester for over a decade, I am, by birth, a child of the Bronx. In fact, I grew up about 15 blocks from the bridge and was all too familiar with the neighborhood.

"My problem? What if I abandon the van, call a cab from a pay phone and just leave it here."

"OK, OK...talk to the tow truck driver, they have deals with the local garages."

Generalisimo Toll Plaza disappears to find me a tow truck. At least I am off the bridge, out of traffic and it stopped snowing.

He returns with good news. "OK, you're all set. That will be $5"

"What, for the tow? That's some deal...having me towed for $5."

"Not the tow, the TOLL," he said.

After all this I still had to pay the toll? Doesn't the fact that I only made it half way across the bridge entitle me to a some sort of a discount? If I walked across would I still have to pay? I handed him a rumpled five dollar bill, wondering if it would wind up in the city coffers or in some local bodega.

A big, bright shinny tow truck glides to my side. The driver gets out...a young fellow...seems friendly. As with many a South Bronx youth, the name thing was complicated

"My name is Julio, I go by Robbie but they call me Lobo."

"Do you have a preference I inquire."

"Call me Flaco, I'm trying out a new nickname."

Lobo/Flaco hooks up the van and takes me to what looks like an all night garage and cocaine dealership. I wait inside the tow truck as Lobo negotiates a deal. I never actually talk to anybody, never even look around, everything about my demeanor says "I won't testify."

Lobo/Flaco and a tall thin young man dressed in a dark suit signal me to get in a black Lincoln Town Car. It's already attached to the van by some sort of a towing mechanism under the rear bumper. Inside the driver, a huskier fellow in leather jacket is talking on the car phone in some foreign language...he hardly notices me and never acknowledges the fact that I'm in the front seat with him.

I say nothing during the 20 minute drive to my in-laws in New Rochelle. We exist in two separate realities: he of the leather jacket, international calling Lincoln Town car world, and me from the land of the dead van.

When we get to New Rochelle my mother-in-law pays the driver as I warm up in the kitchen, explaining to my father-in-law what had just happened.

"So it just stalled on you, right there on the bridge?"

"Yeah, the lights flickered and it stopped dead"

"You know it was acting up last week, I was going to get it checked out before you asked to borrow it."

"Really..." I replied

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