Thursday, March 13, 2008

Slow Boat to China

'I think the car needs a tuneup'. Ya think? I was sitting in the back seat of the taxi, passing sideway glances at my wife, and not saying anything to the driver. As we were reaching top speeds of 40 miles an hour on a somewhat deserted Van Wyck Expressway at 6 AM, I was pretty certain the problem was something greater than the cab driver was suggesting.

We were just returning from a 'red eye' flight from visiting our daughter in Utah. Having experienced some back pain while we were away, and having just tried to sleep in uniquely uncomfortable positions during the plane ride home, I was not overly thrilled at the prospects that lay before me in this vehicle. Would we end up stuck on the highway, imprisoned in the back seat, awaiting a rescue? Was there one driver of another car, paying less than complete attention, who would not notice that the vehicle in front of him , IN THE FAST LANE, was doing his best impression of the tortoise and the hare? I envisioned all types of events unfolding, and none of them were particularly attractive.

Then matters got worse. As we got to the first incline in the road ( and , in most circumstances, it would be impossible to call this an incline) the car began to slow down. We began our ascent of this 'hill' as if we were climbers on a trek, going up the last 100 feet , trying to reach the summit of a snow covered mountain. Each step forward was labored. I am sure we were going no more than 10 miles an hour. As cars whizzed by, I again turned towards my wife. Words were not necessary to express what each of us was thinking. I certainly was not about to engage in light banter with the driver. So , I sat and watched, waiting for the disaster to continue to unfold.

Finally, we reached the 'apex' of the climb, and the car began to find renewed life. Soon we were once again 'speeding' forward at well over 30 miles per hour. This process of slow, slower and almost a complete stop, repeated itself several more times over the ensuing minutes. I began to look diligently ahead , to try to determine where the next incline lay, and how steep it would be. I also tried to envision the rest of our trip home, turn by turn , to think where each insurmountable task lay in front of us. It was, to say the least, not the most relaxing trip I could recall.

Then, the monster began to loom in the distance. We were approaching the king of beasts. As we came closer to the ramp that was to lead us off the Harlem River Drive , to the entrance to Route 95 and the George Washington Bridge, I saw no way that this trip was going to have a happy ending. It seemed to me that all the efforts expended by the car up to this point had been child's play. Now it was to face a real test, and given its recent efforts, I did not think it was up to the task. We began the tortorously slow ascent. We have all said at one time or another that our car was performing so badly that we had to push it up the hill. This was the moment where I was sure there would be more truth than fiction to that statement.

I couldn't understand why the driver had not put on the car's flashing lights, to warn other vehicles. Did he not think that this was an unusual experience? How long had this car been driven while performing in this way? It was incomprehensible to me that this car was on the road. But, it was, and we were being taken for a ride of a lifetime.

As the summit came into sight, and then was attained, the car once again 'sped 'up. Exhausted by its efforts, it reached a cruising speed of about 15 miles an hour as it crossed the George Washington Bridge. Soon we passed into New Jersey and were deposited in front of our apartment. I got out of the car, thanked the driver, kissed the ground like I was Columbus upon reaching America, and headed inside.

After taking a deep breath, I called the cab company to tell them of my experience. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from the owner of the company, informing me that the car had been mistakenly sent out and apologizing profusely for their mistake. Further, he said there would be no charge for the ride home. I got off the phone after thanking him for his action and his good business judgment. While I realized I had gotten home safely, and at no expense, I have decided that walking , not riding, is the wave of the future, at least for me.

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