Last Friday night I headed out with 2 of our trio on a trip to Richmond, normally a few hours’ drive from our home. Our high school-aged daughter had a 3 day sports competition as part of a travel team, and I planned to split the weekend between cheering her on and spending some one-on-one time with her elementary-aged brother. Seemed like a great plan.
But about 2/3 of the way there, my trusty–but not new–SUV lost power. What does THAT mean? Radio–stopped playing…which was extra painful because we were listening to an ’80s show that we expected to air our phone-in request in a few minutes. Headlights–dimmed in a hurry. Dash instruments–dropped to zero, despite the fact that we were still going. I moved to the right shoulder, and before the next exit the engine gave out, too.
Dark (without any lights). Cold. Heavy, long-weekend traffic on I-95. 2 kids, plus luggage, on board. And for the first time in almost 30 years of driving, I was stuck alongside the road with a problem that couldn’t be solved with a spare tire and a jack. With the emergency lights barely flashing, I got out and stood behind the truck, counting on the reflective parts of my ski jacket to replace the flares I was not sure I could get to without unpacking all of the bags. [I know: Maybe not the smartest move, but at the time my first thought was to keep us from getting hit by someone who couldn't even see us.]
But then everything took a turn for the better because one person after another went out of their way to help:
I tried to flag down a passing police officer, but he did not see me in time across 4 lanes of heavy traffic. So I called 911 and the operator notified the county police that we were stranded without lights. Less than 5 minutes later the same officer was back, parked behind us with his lights flashing to keep us safe from highway traffic and offering to put the kids in his car to keep them warm.
The officer called a state highway truck. The state highway driver checked out my SUV, reaching the same conclusion the officer and I had: The alternator was dead.
The officer called for a tow truck, and he knew the driver who showed up to get us off the interstate. They talked through our best options, fielding all of my questions.
The tow truck driver recommended a garage. He assured me that it was a family-run business that would be open first thing Saturday morning and that he had even known the owners to stay open late on the weekend to help stranded travelers get back on the highway. He also recommended an inexpensive, but national-chain, hotel directly across the street from the garage. He took us to the hotel and then took our truck to the garage.
Meanwhile, my daughter was working her smartphone to find a ride to the tournament. She found out that another family with a daughter on another team in the same club had left later than we had. My daughter called to ask for help, and they happily detoured from the highway to pick her up and take her on to the team hotel in Richmond so she would be with her team for the full weekend–The players room together, so once she got to the hotel she was going to be safe with friends and chaperones.
I called the Richmond hotel to let them know that I would not be checking in as expected. It was 11:00pm, 5 hours after the deadline to cancel a reservation, so all I wanted was to confirm the room for the rest of the weekend. I explained that we were stranded until we could get the truck fixed and the lady on the phone put me on hold. When she came back, I was stunned to hear that she was changing our reservation from 3 nights to 2 and was waiving the cost for Friday night.
The next morning, my son and I were at the garage when it opened. They already knew our story because the tow truck driver had called one of them AT HOME. In less than 30 minutes they had confirmed the alternator diagnosis and quoted me a repair price. When I asked how long it would be before we could get back on our way to my daughter’s tournament: “45 minutes.” Incredible. By the time I took my son back across the street to the hotel for the mini-buffet breakfast and we got packed, the truck was ready. We drove on and were able to catch most of his sister’s last match of the day.
In a time when many people coast through their jobs and treat customers as an inconvenience, every one of these people went above and beyond to turn a crisis into a problem solved. Much appreciation.