“Shit.” I don’t swear a lot, but those were the first words out of my mouth as the accelerator pedal suddenly went limp beneath my foot. The radio cut off abruptly and all of the lights but one on the dashboard flickered out, leaving only a large, angrily blinking red battery icon.
Mai, my very short coworker sitting in the passenger’s seat, glanced over at me. “What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” I replied. “The truck just died.” The honking was already starting behind us.
I stared out the windshield at the gloomy day. It was about 8:30 in the morning, and we were driving one of the Habitat for Humanity trucks out to the day’s job site. We had gotten a foot and a half of snow over the last two days, so the roads were filled with ice and slush, and driving conditions were horrible. Fortunately, our truck had four-wheel drive, and we had made it without incident into the middle lane of the three-line highway headed towards our destination. Of course, that was where everything had gone wrong.
I turned the key again, but heard nothing from the truck. There wasn’t even the click of the engine trying to turn over; it was completely dead. “We’re not going anywhere,” I said heavily.
I glanced over at Mai, and saw the situation now sinking in. It wasn’t great, I had to admit. We couldn’t even pull over to the side of the road, get out of the center of the highway. The only small upside was that, due to the snow, cars were creeping along at 20 miles per hour, giving them plenty of time to get out of our lane and go around us. I made sure the emergency flashers were on.
Mai pulled out her phone. “I’ll call Tony,” she said, punching in the number for our equipment and vehicle manager. As she did so, I took out my own phone and scrolled down through my contacts to Habitat for Humanity’s tow service. We were going to need it.
As I finished explaining to the lady at the towing center where we were located and what had happened, Mai ended her call. “Tony says we should call 911, let them know what happened,” she said, looking plaintively at me. I could tell she didn’t want to be the one to call.
“On it,” I replied, punching in the three digits on my phone’s touchscreen. As I hit the call button, I realized that this was the first time I had ever had reason to call 911. What a milestone, I thought sourly to myself.
The phone picked up within a few rings, and a police dispatcher listened as I explained our situation, and then told me that a car would be out there shortly. I wasn’t quite sure what a police car would be able to do to help us, but maybe the officer would have some ideas. I slumped down in my seat, staring out at the sea of cars honking as they slowly passed us.
About ten minutes later, the police officer pulled up in a squad car behind us. Turning on his lights and pulling up on our left side, he rolled down the window and yelled at me to try the car again. Obligingly, I gave the key another turn. Surprisingly, the car kicked into shaky, unsure life! With the officer behind us, we merged over to the right shoulder of the highway.
We slowly crept along the shoulder until we reached the closest exit, the officer following behind us and directing other cars out of the way with his microphone. Taking side streets, I limped the car back over to the repair shop, where I told them that the tow was no longer necessary. Car dropped off, Mai and I walked the three blocks back to our office.
While that morning was definitely not fun, and it is quite traumatic to be sitting in a stalled car in the middle of the highway with vehicles passing on both sides, I am at least glad that my first 911 call was not for a death, injury, or other serious event.