(First of all, if you are in any way affiliated with a Federal Way-based towing company, do understand that my hate is not directed towards any individual. You’ll see what I mean.)
My dad owns a small business that imports heated stone beds and sells to customers in the region. And for the past few years, I’ve been helping to deliver the things to people’s homes all over the Pacific Northwest. Usually they don’t live further than Seattle (northward) and Olympia (southward), and the only real issues are when we have to deliver to, say, Oregon or Spokane (the latter of which I haven’t done personally). I suppose I’m glad that this story didn’t occur on one of those faraway deliveries.
I think it happened in my junior year. Possibly near the end of sophomore year. At any rate, the year was 2008. There was a routine delivery to Federal Way (a bit more than a half-hour away from where I live, in case you don’t live around the Puget Sound) on a Saturday. The only thing was, our GMC Savana was being a little wonky in the week leading up to that–we were going to have the engine looked at, but this was a time-sensitive delivery and we figured we could just do it after coming back.
The drive up went okay. When I say “drive up”, I literally mean “up”. As in, these people lived on a hilltop. In retrospect, I still have no idea how an engine in that condition was able to handle it. The car did stutter heavily near the end, but we got there, pulled into the driveway backwards (so we could unload the bed), and set to work.
We must have finished in about 20~30 minutes. (I have no actual recollection of how long this particular setup took. I’m just assuming it took the normal amount of time.) Loaded up the empty boxes, bid the customers a good day, got in the car, turned the key. It refused to turn on. Okay, great. There are plenty of things to do here. Like try again. (Now, my recollection of this entire event is fairly vivid, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where the smoke was involved. I remember the engine starting to smoke at some point, and it may well have been at this second try. But I can’t be completely sure.)
Anyways, a bit later we tried getting water from the customer and topping off the radiator. (Yeah, you’re supposed to use distilled water for that, but do people keep that around their house very often?) And, on the next try, the engine magically turned on. It was still incredibly unstable, though–the car was idling roughly. Again in retrospect, this was probably a good time to give up and call a towing company. But I guess we decided to give the return trip a go.
My dad was driving carefully, and the car lasted the few minutes it took for us to roll down the hill. I thought we could make it. All the way down the hill, there was an intersection into a larger road (I don’t remember the name–if someone can figure it out from the description later on, let me know!) that we had to turn right into. The moment he stepped on the brakes at that intersection, the engine died again.
And it wasn’t coming back.
It was a busy road and a busy intersection. Immediately, the three or so cars behind us in the line started honking and driving around. Clearly this wasn’t a good spot for an engine to die. Fortunately, on the other side of the intersection was a very large (and more importantly, empty) parking lot, serving some kind of aquatics center that apparently was closed or something that day. I just used three adverbs to start three sentences in a row.
(A little visual aid of the situation. Hush about the quality, I whipped it up in about two minutes.)
First order of business: get the van from its awkward spot at the intersection to the nice and big parking lot. The intersection itself was on flat ground, but the far side was on a slight slope. So once the car got rolling, it would pick up speed on its own. My dad would steer (since I had never grabbed a steering wheel in my life at that time–I didn’t get my license until senior year) and I would push just for that little distance until the slope.
Let’s just say we overestimated my 15-year-old full body strength.
This wasn’t going to go anywhere. But by another fortune (this kind of thing is why I believe God has a great sense of humor), there were three random guys walking by at that moment. We asked for help, and the car rolled easily enough with their assistance. Though, now that I think about it, we were pushing this thing at high speed through a busy uncontrolled intersection and didn’t get hit. I guess people are more careful about their driving than I thought.
The vehicle was now in the parking lot and still in one piece. That was good, but on the other hand it started raining shortly after. Actually, I should say “pouring down a tumultuous torrent” or quite simply “someone took a lake and dumped it out on top of Federal Way”. We needed a tow truck as soon as possible, but where does one find the phone number for a local towing company in an empty parking lot of an “aquatics center that apparently was closed or something that day”? If your answer is that aquatics center, you are either truly thinking outside the box or just really desperate.
We were a bit closer to the desperate side. By our third stroke of luck that day, the receptionist was working even though the place was closed. I didn’t know why, and I didn’t care. She was a rather kind old lady and told us that she had an old phone book. Success!
There were three companies listed in the directory. The first one didn’t pick up their phone. Okay, that leaves two. The second one did pick up, but after I worked out the pricing and timing, suddenly told me that they could only have one other person in the cabin in addition to their driver. Obviously that was problematic. So we called the third place, and they told us that exact same thing. Regulations, they said.
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a fifteen-year-old boy who did hard manual labor (including loading stuff up from the warehouse) on a Saturday morning and was looking forward to an afternoon of relaxation, when your car breaks down in a busy intersection and you have to explain to people behind that your car is, in fact, in such crap condition that it broke down in a busy intersection and then try to push it across said intersection but fail miserably and you do eventually make it across without getting killed but then it starts to rain like the world is ending and you somehow find three people who can save your day but the first one is just too good to answer their damn phone and the others are basically saying that you’re going to have to spend a couple MORE hours alone either in that rain or in a completely vacated (except for the receptionist, kindly as she was) swimming pool until your father returns to pick you up and all you have on you is your cell phone before you got texting and the towing company people are being awfully rude about it.
I’m surprised I didn’t come out with some kind of trauma.
I did end up being able to come home quicker than I thought. My dad called a friend who knew the number to a Lakewood-based towing company, and even though they were going to take a while to arrive, we weren’t picky at the time. And yes, this company did allow its drivers to have more than one person riding in the cabin with them. It was over in a couple hours. And to be fair, the other towers didn’t really have anything to do with the car breaking down and they were just following their rules.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t absolutely hate Federal Way towing companies with all my heart that day.