Misery Loves Company


This is a true story.

On the most hot and humid day of one summer, the engine of my SUV suddenly stopped working at a red light at a four-way intersection somewhere on the North Side. I turned off the engine and tried to restart the car. The engine started just fine, but unfortunately the gearshift refused to budge out of Park, so I couldn’t move the car. We were stuck.

So I did what any self-respecting suburbanite would do and I called AAA. My car was full of teenagers; we had places to go, they were hungry, and it was hot. And humid. Really humid.

AAA was an hour away. People blasted their horns at us every time the light changed and we couldn’t move. Some people asked if we needed help. But I wasn’t worried—we had a/c and a cell phone, we were going to be fine.

So we waited—in the SUV, in the intersection, because, like I said, the engine had started up again so we had air conditioning (and hazard lights) and we chose to be comfortable. The teenagers were getting grumpy. “We’re all in this together,” I reminded them. “We need to chill, literally and figuratively.”

After fifteen minutes we ran out of conversation, so we ordered pizza. Among the necessities I carry with me in my car, the teens found coupons for a family special of pizzas, wings and sodas.

The AAA driver arrived sooner than we expected, rattled the gearshift to no avail, gave up, and said, “I know EXACTLY the guy who can fix this … hey, did you order pizza?”

Sure enough, the pizza (and wings and soda) had arrived. The deliveryman noted that it had been a while since he had made a delivery to an intersection. “At least a few months,” he said. “Probably more, though.” He blocked traffic to deliver our pizza and made sure that we had enough cups and extra napkins. He gave the teens extra parmesan cheese and red pepper and told us to have a nice day. I tipped him well.

I wouldn’t allow anyone to turn on the radio so as to avoid potential fighting. I also wouldn’t allow the red pepper eating contest, but I willingly turned the air conditioner higher to keep everyone in all three rows of the SUV as cool as possible.

The AAA driver took two slices of pizza, folded them into a sandwich, and called his friend who worked a few blocks away for help. “The gear shift won’t move,” he said. Then in between bites “Yeah. Nope. I dunno … I dunno … I dunno … OK. Yeah, hey, there’s pizza too.”

He told us about how he has a proposal in to Hollywood for a reality show based on all the characters he meets as a AAA tow truck driver. He also said he used to own his own pizza shop and deli but it burned down. He suspects arson and organized crime because his pizza was too good for anybody to compete against.

I tell him that his reality show is sure to be a hit. I invoke the titles of TV shows in the same vein, such as Ice Road Truckers, Parking Wars and my favorite, South Beach Tow. He tells me I should propose my own reality show because I seem like an interesting person, driving around with a bunch of teenagers in the car. He tells the kids garlic parmesan is his second favorite type of wing, but his first favorite changes between buffalo and honey. But garlic parmesan is always his second choice.

He tells me that his girlfriend is opening a beauty salon and I should visit. “She’ll make you look 10 years younger, you’ll look 32, no, you’ll look 25!” he says. “You’ll look like one of these kids! She’ll give you a REALLY GOOD haircut!” I laugh because I had just had a really good haircut the day before. He wrote the phone number to his girlfriend’s salon on the pizza box. “They don’t have a name for the salon yet,” he adds. “So she might not say anything when she answers the phone.”

His friend arrived and I vacated my cool, comfortable driver’s seat to stand outside in the sweltering heat as cars maneuvered around us. A few people glared, but many stopped to ask if we needed help. I pointed to the AAA truck and said, “thank you, but we were in capable hands.” While standing in the street, I also took the opportunity to look for a place with a bathroom for near-future use.

The friend assessed the situation, easily disassembled the gearshift casing, pressed a tiny secret white button inside, then reassembled the box. He fixed my gearshift in about five minutes then happily accepted some still-cool soda to refill his insulated bottle and took a chicken wing.

The AAA driver told us all to write down his name and phone number on our extra napkins, and he double checked that everyone did it correctly. His parting words as he got out of the car were a warning never to take up smoking.

I tipped him and his friend with the rest of my cash for their exceptional service, they thanked us for the food and reminded me to return the customer survey if I was happy with the service call. (On a scale of 1-10, this service call ranked about 10,000.)

I was very happy. It just goes to show that a potentially miserable event is only as miserable as you allow it to be. We were all in it together, and we came through it together just fine.

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