So I was driving home, along one of my usual routes late at night. I was just west of Santa Rosa on Hall Road, just barely in the country, when I hit something and heard what turned out to be the sound of air gushing out of my right rear tire, then what sounded like metal rolling on the roadway. So of course, I pulled over right away, dragged out my flashlight, and quickly discovered my right rear tire was flat.
I had forgotten my cell phone. But to be honest, it is a bit more than forgetting.
I don’t much like cell phones these days. After all, the entire point when they were introduced was that you could talk on them while driving. In California, that’s now illegal, and while I’ve seen the claim that driving while talking on the phone is as bad as driving drunk, to me, in an era when Total Information Awareness—a program to gather all possible information about everyone everywhere—was not eliminated when there was an uproar in Congress, but rather renamed, and moved to another agency under a secret budget, that reduces the cell phone to a tracking device for three-letter agencies. So I’m really not all that enthusiastic about carrying one around.
It happens I have a ham license (technician class; my call sign is N4RKY), so I dug out my handheld, hooked it up to the big antenna I keep in the truck and tried a few frequencies. No response. At the convention where I qualified for that license, I noticed that as a group, the ham radio operators there tended to be the early-to-bed, early-to-rise type. It was already past 11:00 pm, many hours past the bedtime I would expect of that group.
So I walked back to town. At Fulton and West 3rd Street, there was, to my surprise, a liquor store open. But the clerk said he could only use the phone to call the office, not AAA. This was unfortunate. AAA wants you to be with the vehicle when you call. Now I was going to have to walk, possibly a considerable distance to find another store or a pay phone.
And so I did. I decided my best bet was to continue east, toward Stony Point Road, where there is a shopping center with a grocery store (it would already be closed) and a drug store (it might still be open) and a few other stores, and maybe, just maybe, a pay phone.
Along the way, I saw a cop. I tried to flag him down. But I guess I wasn’t helping him make his quota. He didn’t stop.
I saw someone pull into a driveway. I tried to yell to him that I needed someone to call AAA. He ignored me. At that point, a woman on a bicycle and a man on foot appeared. They were obviously under the influence of something illegal. He offered me a rock—not a crack cocaine rock but a landscaping rock—from the ground. I didn’t even reach out to accept it. It rolled off the inside of my elbow. He threw another one at a tree. Realizing that yes, I really was experiencing a post-apocalyptic horror, I continued on.
I saw a house with the garage door open and the sounds of a party. By the front door, there were a bunch of Hispanic men sitting around with a large—I should say, huge—pile of empty beer bottles. In extremely broken English, they refused to call AAA and asked me to leave.
I walked all the way to Stony Point. The drug store was closed, but I saw the light of a pay phone. But I should have caught on more quickly when I saw the Pacific Bell logo. Pacific Bell hasn’t existed for years; it was first absorbed into Southern Bell, and is now part of AT&T (and I’m old enough to remember when AT&T was broken up in an anti-trust action). No pay phone.
I managed to find someone at the Domino’s Pizza who let me borrow his cell phone to call AAA. I’m a Premier Member of AAA and have been a member since 1993; and this time, that counted for something. After I found my way through the phone tree, the woman who answered wasn’t turning me down.
But when the tow truck driver arrived and I explained that my truck was on Hall Road, he exclaimed, “We can’t do that! I don’t know why AAA did this!” Hall Road, it turns out, is in another road service contract area. But the driver got the call reassigned and gave me a ride back to Fulton and Hall Road. I walked from there back to my truck. And just about the time I was really beginning to become anxious, a Sebastopol Tow truck showed up.
The tire is pretty bad. It has a hole in it about the size of a pencil. The tow truck driver thinks it might be patchable, but it won’t be possible to tell until the tire shop pulls it apart. I’m safely home now and my cat was very happy to see me.
But I’m thinking about where the status quo has landed us, that it’s so hard to get help on a country road late at night.
- David L. Strayer, Frank A. Drews, and Dennis J. Crouch, “A Comparison of the Cell Phone Driver and the Drunk Driver,” Human Factors 48, no. 2 (Summer 2006): 381-391. http://www.distraction.gov/research/PDF-Files/Comparison-of-CellPhone-Driver-Drunk-Driver.pdf↩
- Joe Conason, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2007)↩