I’ve had the unpleasant experience of breaking down on the road three times over the past 45 days. In two of those three events my venerable 2004 Rodeo died right at a stoplight intersection at or close to the front of the line. In those events, I witnessed firsthand the absolute unpleasantness of other drivers who were momentarily inconvenienced by my breakdown.
The first of these three breakdowns occurred at the end of September in an extremely busy highway intersection, at the peak of evening commuter traffic. It would have been hard to find a worse place for my Rodeo to die. I was in the middle lane of a three lane road with turn lanes on my left and right sides. There was no safe place to push my Rodeo, it was approaching sunset and my warning flashers were going dim due to the electrical problem that caused my breakdown. The only thing I could do was call for a tow and then stand in back of my Rodeo waving other drivers around me while I waited.
During the 40 minutes it took to get towed out of there, only one person asked me if I had a tow coming as they drove around me. I witnessed a police car drive by the intersection twice without stopping to check on me. On top of the many angry “honks” I received from drivers going around me, I had an ugly encounter with a member of the Prince William County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department who actually threatened me with arrest for “blocking traffic.”
That particular encounter became the subject of a letter of complaint, and I did subsequently get a small amount of amends from the Chief of the Fire and Rescue Department. But at the time, that encounter was insult on top of injury during an extremely dangerous situation.
My Rodeo died again this past Monday, again with an electrical system problem. At least this time I knew what was happening and was able to pull off the road in a relatively safe place to wait for a tow. Interestingly, my pull-over location was a turn lane into a Prince William County Volunteer Fire and Rescue station. During my nearly one hour wait for a tow, a member of the Fire and Rescue Department did stop and check on me so maybe my earlier complaint did some good.
The third time was yesterday morning, with yet another electrical system failure (yes, there’s a pattern). This time my Rodeo died at another stoplight intersection, but I was still in a residential neighborhood and the intersection was not so busy.
This time, I emphasized to the AAA that I was “in the middle of an intersection,” and the dispatcher promised to give me a priority dispatch. I ended up waiting only 30 minutes for my tow. My battery was completely dead and even my emergency flashers were not working, so while I waited I stood behind my Rodeo waving people around me. During those 30 minutes only three of the several dozen people who passed me made a point of asking if I had help coming; one person was actually a passing bicyclist and another person was a school bus driver. But one driver going around me rolled down his window as he passed and yelled at me to put my flashers on. Real helpful he wasn’t.
Witnessing the behavior of other drivers during these breakdowns has gotten me thinking. I would never harass someone stuck in the middle of an intersection no matter how much inconvenience it caused me. I consider that as much inconvenience as I have with a traffic jam caused by a broken-down car, the driver of that car is much more inconvenienced. I do make a point of checking on people broken down on the road if it is at all safe for me to stop.
Isn’t it considered acceptable behavior anymore to try and assist someone who might need help? Is harassing a person whose vehicle broke down in an inconvenient location really acceptable behavior in our brave new world? Have we become so self-centered that we can’t emphasize with someone else in trouble? In this ostensibly Christian nation, where are the Good Samaritans?