“I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my entire life,” my aunt Michele said. “What’s your name?”
I’m still not sure whether she didn’t hear him correctly the first time due to the downpour of rain and the commotion created by the constant flow of cars whizzing by the cab of the nine-and-a-half ton tow truck that I found myself sitting in last Tuesday, or if she just couldn’t believe that someone’s parents thought “Frosty” was a suitable name for their son–perhaps they were a big fan of the holly, jolly iconic winter-time snowman. But at this point in the night, I was neither holly nor jolly, and the mental state of Frosty’s parents were the least of my worries.
The plump black man plopped down soaking wet into the driver’s seat. He pushed some buttons to lift my ’98 Ford Contour off of the Conshohocken exit ramp, right off Route 76, where it threw a hissy fit and decided to stop working approximately two hours prior.
I’m glad the Frosty that would be our driver for the next hour was sans a corn-cob pipe. Instead a single wooden toothpick hung out of his mouth. I’m especially glad he didn’t have a carrot for a nose, because my 10-pound Flemish Giant rabbit Pancake happened to be along for the ride, too, and the last thing anyone needed on this disaster of a night was a body-part to get chomped off. Between a pseudo-snowman and a bunny, that truck was a hot-mess of holiday characters.
I guess I should probably back track and explain how it is that myself, along with my aunt, mother and furry rabbit son found ourselves uncomfortably squeezed next to Frosty in a tow truck, fit to carry two, to begin our journey home to Allentown, Pa. for Thanksgiving break.
I was dozing off in the backseat, rabbit in lap, to the angelic voice of Ingrid Michaelson softly playing through my speakers. I was just beginning to think about whether or not my mother would make a public outcry about my septum ring at the Thanksgiving dinner table when I was jerked awake by my car malfunctioning on the Schuylkill. It was being a giant tease. The power would turn off for a few seconds and then back on, giving us false hopes that its tantrum would fizzle out.
For all those mechanics who are playing along at home, it was the alternator that croaked. No alternator equals no hazard lights. No hazard lights in the pouring rain and pitch black while sitting directly on an exit ramp equals my imminent death.
It took a disaster to realize how unprepared I was for this kind of situation. I didn’t have a flashlight. I didn’t have a road flare. I didn’t even have the light on my cellphone because my battery level was close to gone. If I would have known I was going to need it, maybe I would have cut down on my Words with Friends playing. I would have been happy with a birthday candle as a light source at this point.
To understand the dynamics in the car, one has to first understand the personalities of the sister duo of my aunt and mother. They always put safety first. When I was little they always examined all my Halloween candy for possible poisoning by our friendly neighbors, and always made me wear a helmet when I was riding my Barbie car around the grassy yard with my sister at less than five miles per hour. But in their defense, my sister did have some fierce road rage in her young age.
But I guess things change when you’re stranded on the side of the road, because that night I witnessed my aunt go into survival mode. I watched her run out into the pouring rain without an umbrella to jump a guardrail in order to ask a cop on the other side of the road for a flare. The female cop told her that they just got another call and zoomed away. Although, even if they were able to spare five seconds to hand her a flare, I doubt we would have had a lighter on hand to ignite it.
As we waited for AAA to come to the rescue, each pair of headlights that came flying off the ramp made us tense. At one point my aunt dramatically screamed, “It’s going to take us out!” as a giant tractor trailer rounded the corner.
“Seriously, Michele?” I said, half laughing, half scared out of my mind.
“I just wanted you to be prepared.”
While we were worrying about our lives, my mother was worrying about when she could next use a bathroom. She began plotting a plan to run across the road to a McDonald’s restroom. The golden arches were separated from us by a tall metal fence, but I guess after seeing my aunt hop a guardrail, anything was possible. I didn’t oppose because my tummy was growling and if we had to wait any longer for food, I was afraid the rabbit would be the first one on the chopping block, literally.
Before anyone got desperate enough to start scaling fences or eating pets, the tow truck sent by AAA finally managed to work its way through bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 76 to reach us. And there came our hero: Frosty the tow-man.
Frosty took a “shortcut” to get on to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If we wouldn’t have been so packed in the cab, we probably would have been flying around because his shortcut had the massive truck winding through dark backroads, splashing up giant puddles with each turn. It was comparable to an all-terrain vehicle ride I went on through the jungles of Cancun last summer. I wish I was wearing a bikini like I was back then because Frosty insisted on keeping the windows open, despite the pouring rain. The rabbit and I were getting soaked, and at this point I think I won the worst-mommy-of-the-year award.
Frosty kept comfortable conversation with us between his radio exchanges with Tyrone back at the shop, who Frosty told us “didn’t feel like picking you guys up.”
I hope by the time Frosty dropped us off at the garage and drove back to the North Pole he remembered to tell Santa Claus that a certain girl in Philly could really use a roadside safety kit under her tree this year, as well as a renewal of her AAA account.
Pancake gave me his wish list to mail to the big guy. It’s in rabbit language, but I’m pretty sure the No. 1 thing is for him to be reunited with his real mom–the one that doesn’t make him bounce around in a tow truck. That, and an endless bag of carrots.
I wish I could report that the ride back to Temple went better, but as I wrote this column I sat in my living room with Pancake, surrounded by my belongings because I left my room keys in Allentown. Forever struggling.
Cara Stefchak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.