Saturday, June 03, 2006

The Perfect Storm (Washington Heights Edition)

A funny thing happened on my way back to New York yesterday.

Just as I was getting ready to pat myself on the back for making good time after about two and a half hours of driving, the skies opened up, and rain came down faster than you can say, "WTF?" It was raining so hard, that my visibility went from about two miles to 4 feet. Within mere minutes, the highway that I was traveling on got flooded, and suddenly, my wonderful late-spring, early afternoon drive back to NYC turned into a test of endurance and luck. Before I knew it, I was leaning forward in my seat, cursing out every one and their mother on the highway because between thing or another, either people were simply drifting across lanes without signaling, or refused to turn on their lights. Little did I know that my troubles would not stop there.

Once I hit New York city limits, I was forced to slow down even more when I ran into some pre-rush hour traffic that had been affected by the torrential downpour coming down over our heads. To make matters worse, I wasn't going straight home, but rather, I had to drop off my Washington Heights-bound former roommate, Pedro, who had accompanied me back to NYC for the ride from Syracuse. For those unfamiliar with New York geography, Washington Heights is a region in uptown Manhattan, that, although physically not too far away from my residence in the Bronx, has one huge downside: incredibly stupid, aggressive drivers. Stupid, as in, "I'm going to break every fucking driving law imaginable just so I can get to my destination." I'm talking double and triple parking, driving backwards, changing lanes without signaling, illegal U-Turns, tailgating, and constant horn-honking in an area where there are literally a million cars packed into into 5 sq. miles. The vast majority of the residents that live in the Heights are of Dominican descent, and most of the horrible drivers are immigrant Dominican cab drivers that act like they are still driving back home in DR. Trust me, I'm not even making this up or stereotyping; it's the utter truth. You do not want to be on a road with these kinds of drivers. They'll get you wrecked in an accident, and then have the balls to walk up to you and curse you out for making them miss a cab fare. Despite these people, here I was driving right into this bedlam someone had the nerve to dub a "neighborhood" during the middle of a freaking rainstorm. You don't "drive" when you're in the Heights. You simply survive and live to tell the tale, if you're lucky.

So, here I am, driving through, cursing cab drivers out left and right, when all of a sudden, I notice my battery light blinked on and my radio began to die. "Awwwwwww shit," I said to myself. My car's battery was getting ready to die in the middle of this utter insanity. I was praying that my car wouldn't just conk out in the middle of a busy intersection, hoping that somehow, my car could squeeze out just enough energy to drop off Pedro and get me back home to the Bronx. I was able to get Pedro, home, but then, right as I was making my way back, my car simply conked out in the worst possible place anyone could be; in the middle of the 4-way intersection on 181st and Broadway, the busiest intersection in the Heights. Without thinking twice about it, I popped the car into neutral, got out, and pushed the damn thing over to a corner to get it out of the way of traffic, almost getting killed in the process by drivers who yelled out of their windows screaming in Spanish, "push faster!" Within a minute, I got the car safely out of the way, and located a police car that was on the other side of the intersection, hoping they could give me a jumpstart so I could be on my way home. Thankfully, the police officer, who seemed to really hate being in this neighborhood, maneuvered through the traffic and got to me, giving me the jumpstart that I needed to get home...

Unfortunately, the jump didn't get me home... I conked out again about two blocks away. Once again, I jumped out, dodging cars in the process, and pushed my car up to a black cab and saw an older Dominican gentleman getting out; apparently, he had just finished parking his car, and was getting ready to get some groceries at a nearby bodega. Quickly, I called him and explained what happened to me in Spanish and asked him if he could help me with a jump. He explained to me that if the police officer's car couldn't give me enough of a charge to get me home, then there was nothing more that he could do with regards to a jump. Instead, he suggested, I should take his space when he was done shopping, and go to a nearby auto shop and get my alternator replaced. It made sense, and considering 30,000,000 drivers breathing down my neck, it was the best choice I had. So, after about five minutes, he came back, got his car out, and helped me push my car into his spot. The dude even put in a quarter for me into the nearby parking meter. In a classic moment, the driver was cursing out other Dominican cab drivers who were looking to steal the space as I was pushing my car into the spot. "No, not this one," he screamed in Spanish, as cab driver after cab driver came and went in the 30 seconds it took for me to get my car into the spot. That guy definitely saved my ass, and I made sure to thank him profusely for the help he gave.

The irony certainly wasn't lost on me that one of the very people that I have grown to hate on the roadways actually saved my ass.

Once I got the car situated, I called my mother, told her what happened, and she offered to make the trip up into the Heights, along with her boyfriend, to pick me up after she left work and see if they could help me get the car out of there. Of course, it was at this time when we both found out that it had rained so much, that the subways in New York were flooded out. Which, of course, only meant one thing: even more traffic. Since, I knew it was going to take my mother about two and a half hours to make it 7 miles uptown through the traffic, I stopped in at a nearby Chinese-Cuban restaurant, ate some food, walked over to a nearby auto store, priced an alternator, and just waited for my mother and her boyfriend to make it through. Since the traffic was too bad for me to get the car out of there at that point in time, they came prepared with a plan:

At about 10 o'clock, we were going to return, get the car out of the spot, and have the BF actually push my car into the Bronx with his car. As in, he was going to hit my car from behind with his car, through Washington Heights, across a bridge, and into the Bronx, on a Friday night in New York. Considering I had no other choice, I decided to go for it.

Man, I must say that after going through that whole thing, that had to be one of the craziest things I've ever done. Between all kinds of people coming close to hitting me, everyone and their mother honking their horns, and everyone screaming in Spanish, "turn on your lights," (No, I can't because my battery's dead!!!) my heart was beating about five times faster than normal. Despite the danger, somehow, however, I actually had fun with the whole situation. The shit was so crazy, what else could you do BUT laugh?

Thankfully, we made it into the Bronx, and got the car close to an auto repair shop that could install a new alternator the next morning. Once I locked up the car, I finally had the chance to head home and go to bed to recover from the incredibly long day. And to think, it all started off with a wonderful, late spring time drive back down from Syracuse...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, the joys of having an older car in New York - you gotta love it.


10:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ray Torres, for reminding me, once again that NOT driving is actually quite a blessing at times. LOL!

8:58 AM  

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