Locked out half naked on I-5

This story explains one reason why I remain open to metaphysical ideas, which is not to say I buy into them all without question.

Back in summer 1990, I bought my first real vehicle at the age of 27. We don’t count the Corvair with the failing transmission and rotting tires, which was stolen with the connivance of the dealer and the assent of our precious legal system, nor do we count the Skyhawk that also had a failing trannie, which I shoved up the seller’s rear end. It was the White Lightning, my 1990 Toyota pickup. I paid $10,200 for it. A two-wheel-drive vanilla-colored and vanilla-looking vehicle, it is, and some of the better money I have ever spent in my life. I’m still driving it.

It might surprise you, then, that one evening early in my ownership, I tried to kick the back window out–but I’m getting ahead of myself. At the time, I was engaged to K., an accountant about my age. She lived near Lynnwood, north of Seattle, and I lived in what would later become Shoreline. I was working over in Bellevue as a computer salesman in the trenches of the IBM/Microsoft wars. My work required that I wear a dress shirt, slacks, tie and dress shoes.

I was still wearing most of them late that summer evening, because I’d gone straight from arrival back at my apartment up to see K. I don’t remember why, but she was distraught about something–probably about her racist S.O.B. parents, with whom she still lived, or her abominable uncle, or her arrogant brother and cousin, or her idiot sister. If you are beginning to suspect that I didn’t have a joyous relationship with K.’s family, and that perhaps the relationship eventually disintegrated, you are a perceptive reader. Her distress wasn’t due to anything I’d done, at least.

The evening ended up with K. and I parked out in Alderwood Manor somewhere, with her bawling and sniffling, and me trying to be supportive. At one point, she had needed a mucous control method. Being the type, I had taken off my white dress shirt and encouraged her to load it up with snot and tears. That didn’t concern me. While I decided against putting the shirt back on, I figured it didn’t matter if I drove home topless. It was night. The only people who would see were my fellow tenants at the slum called The Villager, and I simply didn’t give a damn what any of my fellow Villager people thought about anything. About 10:00, I dropped K. off and headed for I-5. I’d be home in twenty minutes, maybe less. Couple beers and bed.

One decision I had made after buying the truck was a quiet protest against the apathetic climate toward stranded motorists, combined with the culture of fear. Everyone was afraid to stop and help someone, a mentality I still decry. This was before the prevalence of cell phones, so being stuck was a bigger problem than it is today, and being helped was mighty nice. I had decided to be the sort of person who would stop and help people if he could. Ah, those idealistic days. As I rolled down I-5 southbound near the 220th St. SE exit for Mountlake Terrace (mine was the next after that), I saw a vehicle stopped on the shoulder with a young man leaning against it. This Was My Time.

I didn’t stop and think about my appearance, of course. I flipped on my turn signal, braked back and pulled in behind the guy. It made sense to leave my engine running and the lights on, or so I thought. I got out, bare-chested but otherwise dressed for office work, and asked: “What’s wrong?”

The kid told me that his car had died. “Sucks,” I replied. “Where do you live?”

“Mountlake Terrace.”

“Okay. I’ll give you a ride to your place if you like.”

“Sounds good.” I moved to get into the driver’s side. It was locked. My long habits of locking doors behind me had caused me to screw myself but good. Now I was the shirtless guy who had locked himself out of his new truck along I-5 around 10:15 PM, and wasn’t much use to the kid anymore. I had a bit of a panic, and figured that I needed to break a window and get in, so I climbed into the bed. I sat on the right wheelwell, brought back my foot and booted the back window with all my might. Thump. Tried again. Thump. After a third futile kick, and a perverse gratification with the obvious fruits of Toyota’s PPG auto glass standards, I got out and tried to think what to do next.

I’ll bet it was a good thing I couldn’t see the poor kid’s expression. Then I had an idea, one of a series of naive ideas I had that night, each arguably naiver than the last. There’s naive, and then there’s twentysomething J.K. naive.

“Tell you what. I have to call a tow truck to let me back into this thing before it runs out of gas. There’s a gas station off the exit. I’ll just trot down there, call a tow truck, get him to slim jim me into my truck, and if you want, he can tow yours and take you home. Wait here, okay?”

And if you can believe this, I imagined that he would. So off I went, the jogger out for his nightly conditioning run in his dress clothes, manly chest bared for the world not to see (what with it being dark). I wasn’t in bad shape back then, playing hockey and softball, and it didn’t take me that long to reach the exit and then the convenience store. I used a pay phone–kids, that’s what we used to have to do back in the day–to call a tow truck, then set off at a return trot. This was not how I’d planned to spend that evening’s end, but stupid happens.

Can you believe that the kid had bugged out on me? What was the matter with that ungrateful little bastard? In any case, I had no other business but to await the tow truck. It was getting on around 10:45 now, and a vehicle pulled up behind me, headlights like little suns. I couldn’t tell who it was, but it didn’t take long to find out.

Out stepped a Washington State Patrolman, flashlight over the shoulder and directly in my eyes. I understand why they do that, even if it wasn’t any fun. One suspected that perhaps the officer would like to know what was going on, and might justly be prepared for risk, so I did the natural thing. Keeping my hands open, wide and visible, I gave him a cheerful: “Howdy, trooper!”

“Would you like to tell me what’s going on here?”

In fact, I would rather not have, but it was a reasonable question. And if the tow truck didn’t show up, he’d be able to summon any necessary assistance. Fair’s fair; he’d stopped to help someone, so I appreciated that on a couple of levels. I told him the story to this point, omitting nothing. “Now I’m waiting for the tow truck,” I finished.

“Looks like you’ve got yourself in a jam,” advised Trooper Obvious. Couldn’t blame him, though. He was trying his best not to laugh.

A second set of lights appeared behind his patrol car. “Trooper, I think your backup just showed up.”

He looked. “No, that’s a Snohomish County Deputy. Why don’t you stay here with your vehicle and wait for the tow truck, and I’ll go explain this to him.”

While the stater was furnishing his colleague with the Nightly Civilian Comedy Report, another set of lights pulled in behind the deputy’s car. That was the tow truck, and the officers directed the driver toward me. The driver didn’t start laughing, maybe because he had seen weirder things. He took his slim jim and got to work while I watched in nervous mode. He wasn’t succeeding, it was after 11:00 PM, my engine was still running, there were five vehicles present, and I’m not a big fan of being the center of attention at the best of times. The tow truck guy still wasn’t getting anywhere with the slim jim. He explained that on newer models, Toyota had redesigned the lock mechanism. Oh, joy.

I saw a sixth car pull up, just ahead of the kid’s stalled car. Oh, crap. More cops. Not that I didn’t appreciate that the cops had stopped to begin with, but I wasn’t looking forward to another addition to the merry throng. Then I saw the license plate.

Washington, WCA 105. It’s been nearly twenty-four years, and I still remember it purely for this reason. K.’s tags.

A little cautiously, K. got out of her maroon Mustang. “Are you all right?” she asked.

“Yeah, other than locking myself out of my truck.”

“What did you do, stop and help someone, then lock yourself out?”

She knew me that well, at least. I nodded.

This is where trust pays off. When I’d bought the truck, my first act was to give K. a spare key. You never know. She pulled out her key ring, walked over and unlocked my door. Situation resolved. Then I started thinking. “What brought you out here? I’d have thought you were in bed. That’s why I didn’t call you, I figured you’d have a hard time getting to sleep as it was. Did you call my place?” I rarely ask anyone for anything, and hate to inconvenience people, especially when it will require me to explain how dumb I can be.

“No. I just knew you were in trouble, so I got in my car and headed back the way I knew you would go home.” I thanked her, hugged and kissed her, and almost hugged and kissed the tow truck driver when he declined to charge me for coming out. While he hadn’t actually achieved anything, those things aren’t free to operate. I guess he figured I’d had suffered enough for one night. Nice guy. After advising the police officers of the solution, everyone saddled up and went our various ways.

And then I began to think. She had sensed I was in trouble, taken the correct route, happened to spot my truck despite the presence of a varied little fleet of vehicles making it less than easy to pick out, and shown up with the solution in her purse. How does such a thing occur? Most of my mental answers were in language unsuitable for the blog, which maintains rather tolerant standards in that area. The kinds of things one says when one is both creeped out and relieved.

While I’m not trying to cite this as proof of the existence of psychic phenomena, it’s enough to make you think. Anyone remember the old Charlie Daniels Band tune The Legend of Wooley Swamp? It’s one of my country favorites, as they are one of my favorite country bands. And as it keeps repeating:

“Some thangs in this world ya just can’t explain.”

And to this day, I will neither get into nor out of my truck without a spare key on my person.

It has since bailed me out a couple more times.

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