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Rounding Third: Gratitude arrives in a huge tow truck

“New York Thruway Authority. What is your emergency?”

When I left for Massachusetts two weeks ago, those words weren’t on my radar. I definitely didn’t plan on calling 911 from the highway.

A few years back, Dear Richard and I decided to split up the 525-mile trek to Boston. We had found a fabulous Italian restaurant in Albany – with 18 veal dishes on its menu. Now we drive two-thirds of the way, eat at D’Raymond’s, sleep in, and arrive the next day refreshed, not exhausted.

This trip I was driving alone, with the same hankering for dinner at D’Raymond’s. My reservation was 7:30. With a few short stops, the drive time is about 6 ½ hours. I left late morning thinking I’d even have time to put my feet up before dinner.

A beautiful day, the drive was perfect until Rochester. The Thruway is two lanes there, and the travel lane was a lengthy line of 18-wheelers. I hate driving behind them because I can’t see what’s ahead. I pulled out to pass, accelerated, and suddenly, BOOM! Followed by BOOMBOOMBOOMBOOM. It didn’t feel like a blowout. The uncontrollable steering wheel shook in my hands, but no emergency lights showed on the dash. The horrendously loud noise quieted as I slowed my way over to the breakdown lane.

I calmed down enough to assess the situation. Finally, I called 911 to hear the woman’s voice at the Thruway Authority. I gave her the number of the nearest mile marker. “Make and color of your vehicle?” I answered, and she said, “The tow truck will arrive in 30 minutes. Remain in the vehicle with your seatbelt fastened.”

I was comforted that someone was coming. I tried to read my book as the huge trucks zoomed by 6 feet away. Amazingly, Michael drove the tow truck into the breakdown lane exactly 30 minutes later. Tall, super-skinny, and nice, he got right down to business.

After I explained what happened, he checked the tires, then got down on his knees to search for a dragging item. Sure enough, a large steel plate from under the engine block had detached from one side, the other was hanging down on the ground. “That must have made a huge noise,” said Michael. No kidding.

He explained the payment options to cover the $110 service fee. “Oh, plus it’s $7 for each mile I take you to your destination.” Gulp. Then he asked, “So where do you want me to take you?”

He sounded like a tour guide. All I could think of was a Honda dealer. “I think you’re in luck, it’s only 8 to 10 miles away.” Whew.

Michael set about getting my car up onto his flatbed. “OK. Now I need you to get up into my truck, and we’ll head for the dealer.” I looked at his huge black truck cab. It was parked very close to the guide rail to be as far off the highway as possible. That meant I had to climb up into the driver’s side.

And then I looked at the step up. The last time I had to climb into a semi, it had a ladder. This beast had two steps. The bottom one was just below my knee, the second one just below my hip. “Oh, Michael. This isn’t going to work. I have all these replaced joints and I don’t have the geometry to climb that high. Do you have a stool?” He laughed.

Then, with the traffic whooshing beside us, I used his shoulder and the top step to pull myself up. Now I had both feet on the lower step with my only hand holds being the swinging door and the moving steering wheel inside the cab – both over my head. Realizing the problem, Michael squeezed into the cab from the other side. Bracing his feet and crossing his arms, he pulled and I pushed as much as I could. And I was in. I couldn’t help but think of the laughs enjoyed by the drivers speeding by.

Michael deposited me and my wheels at the Honda dealership, charged my credit card, smiled and left. They worked me into their service schedule while I called Albany to cancel my dinner reservation. The hostess thanked me, saying “But remember, we’re open for lunch.” Aha!

The other good news for the day? The Honda man said, “No charge.” I couldn’t believe it. “Nope, this shouldn’t have happened, so we’re not charging you.” A total of three hours behind schedule, I got back on the Thruway heading for my hotel room in Albany.

The next day the “Vitello Forno” for lunch was a great restart to my trip. And I’ll be relying on the emergency services of the New York Thruway to get to my cozy booth at D’Raymonds. Every May and November.

Marcy O’Brien writes from Warren, Pa.

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