Through God’s providence, my family and friends survived Hurricane Irene with homes and workplaces intact. The bottled water and canned goods can be saved for another rainy day, and we can turn to help our less fortunate neighbors. The incredible winds and rain we experienced here in central Jersey reminded me of yet another instance of God touching my life with his humorous hand: exactly four years ago this week, I took a short drive to the discount store to buy a few dishtowels…. which ended up costing me about $25,000.
I had spent that late August morning on my computer, then decided to take a break from the pixels and interact with a few human beings. Skies were threatening, but the local television meteorologist (I’ll call him “Cheerful Chuck”) told his faithful viewers only scattered thunderstorms were due, so I drove my beloved Saturn wagon to the discount store. [I had watched the local weather reports for years, so Cheerful Chuck and I were like THIS (insert picture of two tightly-crossed fingers here)].
I wheeled my basket through the aisles as the lights flickered and the sound of thunder and torrential rains echoed against the store’s metal roof. “No worry,” I thought confidently, “my buddy Cheerful Chuck said these were just passing showers, gotta trust him,” and I strode to the checkout with a few much-needed dishtowels, some bottled water, and a bag of pecan-studded dark chocolate chip cookies. I had carried my giant golf umbrella into the store, but it offered me little protection from the downpour as I skittered back to the car.
By this time, my confidence in my buddy Cheerful Chuck’s weather prognostication skills was waning; I was tempted to change my afore-mentioned tightly-crossed fingers to a single accusatory index finger thrust skywards. “I’ll drive home the back way to avoid the flooded places on the main roads,” I thought, and smugly congratulated myself on the decision.
The blinding rain made it nearly impossible to see, but my beloved Saturn wagon slowly traveled the few miles almost telepathically. I sprayed six-foot streams of water from both sets of tires as I drove, and worried about the dip in the road near the railroad tracks, but made it halfway home uneventfully. I had a choice at the next traffic light: either make a right onto the major artery, add a half-mile to the trip, and join the quickly-growing queue of cars, or go straight onto the winding back road past the high school, sure to be less crowded and puddle-filled. I have lived in this town for over 30 years and knew these roads well; my choice was educated and well-considered: travel straight. Ah, if I had that moment to do all over again… (insert ominous music here)….
The road had a posted speed of 25 miles per hour, but those of us foolhardy enough to be on the roads in the deluge crept along at a much lower rate. My white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel must have decelerated my brain cells, for it took a few fateful seconds for the tableau entering my eyes to make its way to the decision-making lobes in my brain. The “puddles” I expected were more like lakes: they stretched across the entire road and covered both sets of sidewalks as they rippled closer and closer to the houses on either side. My fellow drivers veered onto side roads or stopped abruptly, but I pressed on. Suddenly, my beloved Saturn wagon was unable to move; the engine stalled and I found myself in hubcap-deep water. When I tried to restart the car, each and every light on the dashboard happily lit up, but a strangled gargling sound had replaced the Saturn’s usual purr. I repeated, “Oh my God, oh my God, the water,” and sat frozen at the wheel.
I know what you are thinking. We have all watched the news, snug and warm on the couch, questioning the sanity of “those lunatics” as they drove through deep water and shouting at them, “Just stop driving and get out of the car already!”, but let me tell you, it happened so quickly that I couldn’t react. I continued to sit, paralyzed by uncertainty and fear, until a Jeep on giant tires sped by AND MY CAR STARTED TO FLOAT. Yup, float off the wheels and bob slowly towards the curb. My first thought was that I was in a log flume at an amusement park, but I wore no ride-all-day plastic bracelet and this was far from fun. The Jeep circled around and the driver yelled something, but since I had lost power and couldn’t open the window, I opened my Saturn’s door to hear him yell, “GET OUT OF THE CAR!” and watched 3 inches of water quickly fill my vehicle’s interior.
That bobbing and cold water on my feet shook the remaining brain paralysis loose; I realized I had to get out of the car into the pouring rain. I first grabbed my satellite radio (ah, priorities), then my purse, then the discount store bags with the towels and cookies, and waded through what was now thigh-high water to the side of the road. A woman in an SUV behind me had pulled randomly into a driveway and called out to me, inviting me to sit in her car out of the rain. I sloshed into her back seat and sat down, looked over at my bobbing car (now in water at mid-door level), and sadly lamented, “Oh, my poor baby!” The driver looked at me in horror and said, “You left your BABY in the CAR?!” and I half-laughed when I explained my baby WAS my car. She replied, “Oh, thank Jehovah we are both okay!” and I paused. Jehovah?! Then I thought, “Well, I guess we are pretty much on the same team, right, since she didn’t invoke Satan, and if there is a scramble for donated blood products, she wouldn’t be any competition,” so I muttered agreement. The rain was subsiding, so I exited her car and stood sadly on someone’s lawn, watching three other drivers suffer the same fate as I.
I called a few friends and family members for help, but since it was not yet 5 p.m., no one was home or was engaged in their own struggles on the road. I never felt so alone…..for just a few minutes. God sent me many angels that afternoon: resident after resident either leaned out their windows to call encouragement or walked over to offer me coffee or shelter from the rain. The guys in the Jeep circled back around and pushed my car about a block to a higher area, and soon the rains stopped and the sewers gobbled up the lakes. Not 15 minutes later, the road was merely damp and all of us looked around thinking, “Did this really happen?!”
The insurance tow truck came about an hour later and towed me the 1.5 mile trip to my mechanic; on a clear day the trip takes about 15 minutes, but since every road was paralyzed with traffic, almost an hour went by. Everyone I knew was still struggling on the roads themselves, so I knew I had to hoof the remaining mile home. On cue, because apparently God wasn’t quite ready to stop laughing yet, Round Two of the rain and thunder commenced. I shrugged and told the tow truck driver, “Hey, I’ll just pretend it’s Paris and it’s romantic to walk in the rain, right? Besides, I’m a writer and this’ll make a great email!” He waved and backed away with that frozen, quizzical smile I’ve come to see on so many others’ faces, left me to my rainy walk, huddled underneath that golf umbrella and clutching those discount store bags. I arrived home safe though sodden, stripped off my ruined outfit, dried my skin with my brand-new hand towels, then sat down to a Dinner of Champions: those pecan-studded dark chocolate chip cookies and a beer.
My mechanic told me later that I did indeed drown the car and that it would need a new engine. I regretfully agreed that, since the Saturn was eight years old and had over 105,100 miles on the odometer, I had committed automobile-icide . It turned out to be a pretty expensive trip to the discount store for dishtowels, hmm??
So, there I sat, throwing darts at my picture of meteorologist Cheerful Chuck with my bruised and swollen left wrist injured while forcing open my driver’s door to escape my drowning car. But, even amidst my financial and physical pain, I recognized how merciful God had been. Each of us errant drivers were unharmed, the residents of that side road were so compassionate, I was current on my car insurance premium, and I was wearing comfortable shoes perfect for walking in the rain. The morals I learned that day? One, trust in God to both assist and amuse me; two, stay clear of the puddles and stick to major roads; and three, never believe in Cheerful Chuck’s forecasts again!