The Gotham Beat: A Sweet Bite From the Big Apple

This week, I learned New Yorkers are both terrifying drivers and truly good Samaritans.

I had just crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into Brooklyn. I usually love this part of my drive to Queens.

The road runs along the East River under the Brooklyn Bridge, offering amazing panoramic views of Manhattan. I like to drive in the far left lane, flicking my eyes back and forth between the city and the road.

No matter how many times I make the trip, I never get tired of rounding that curve and seeing New York spread out and glittering in front of me.
A few nights ago, however, I was a little distracted from the postcard-front view by the life-threatening situation in which I found myself.

I was cruising along in my 1991 Toyota Corolla station wagon – yes, they used to make those. My music was way too loud, until it wasn’t. The radio started to turn on and off; my first indication that something was going horribly awry. My dashboard lights started to flicker, and I drove through a puddle. I flipped on the wipers to clear the windshield, except the wipers wouldn’t wipe.

I called my dad, and rapidly explained the car’s symptoms while dodging other motorists to get to the right-hand lane.

“Okay,” he said. “Sounds like the alternator is going. No way you’re making it all the way home.”

Not only did I not make it home, I didn’t make it another 50 feet before my car sputtered and died. Died. There was no shoulder to pull into, and I was a sitting duck with tractor-trailers careening toward me at 80 mph.

As it turns out, when your alternator gives up the ghost, nothing works. Including your hazard lights. So I’m in the middle of a lane on a dark highway, with no way to alert approaching cars to my situation.

I crawled across the car to the passenger side and tried to open the door, but I was too close to the guardrail on this shoulder-less road. I climbed out the window and called 911.

Although I’m sure she had plenty of actual emergencies to attend to, the 911 operator who took my call was patient. She listened while I described the situation in a voice edged with panic. She told me to relax, that police would be responding, and I should call AAA while I
waited to get towed off
the road.

If your car ever spontaneously stops running, do everything in your power to make sure it does not happen on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. It’s a franchised road, so even if you’re a AAA member, (which I am, thanks Nannie!) you have to wait for a different tow truck to come get you off the highway before AAA can tow you home. The second tow truck is free, but the first is not.

The police never showed up, but a tow truck did. He put my car on the truck and took me off the nearest exit. We didn’t even go one mile, but he handed me a bill for $140.

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have that much money on me. Actually, I don’t have that much money in the world.

Luckily, the driver was the first of several Good Samaritans I encountered that night. It might have had something to do with the total despair on my face when I told him I had no way to pay, but he thought for a minute, smiled a little, hopped in the truck and drove away.

I sat in my car under the B.Q.E., waiting for the AAA tow truck, getting more nervous by the minute. I was probably fine, but bad things happen under overpasses late at night, right?

So when someone pulled over in front of me, and the driver’s side door opened, admittedly I began to freak out a little bit. I needn’t have worried though. It was a very nice woman, just pulling over to make sure I was okay. Good Samaritannumber two.

The third was Pedro, my AAA tow truck driver. He picked me up, and chatted with me all the way home. He told me about growing up in a really bad neighborhood in the Bronx, getting out and getting a G.E.D. He talked about his two-year-old son, and how smart he’s getting to be.

By the time we got to my house in Queens, the panic and nerves that had overwhelmed me had totally subsided. Pedro was professional and kind, and he didn’t just drop my car and drive away, either. Instead, he helped me maneuver it into a parking spot on my street. New York is a tough city, and some days it can be difficult to find the good in its people. Admittedly, I wasn’t really in a life-threatening situation, but when I needed it most, New Yorkers came through.

There is apathy and indifference here, yes, but it boils down to this: There is more to the city than busy highways and panoramic views. There are women who will stop to make sure a stranger is okay. There are men who will shrug, smile, and head home with less money in their pockets. There is proof that when it matters, New York takes care of its own.