The VigilanceVoice

July 13, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 304

Roadside Terror: Mixed Into A Day
With A New 9/11 Mother & Child

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZERO, New York City, July 12--I spent the day yesterday with a 9/11 Mother and her new baby.  It started out great, but ended in Roadside Terror.
       Just over a month old, the little boy looked a bit like a mini Winston Churchill with flustered red chipmunk pouches for cheeks, squinty eyes, and rolls of baby fat on his arms and legs that stiffened and kicked whenever he wanted his nook for a snack.
       Mommy Vigilance was there to keep him from the Terror of hunger, cold, and provide the comfort of her arms and soft, maternal Voice reminding him that he was under her shield of protection from any and all danger--including wet or soiled diapers.
       I looked upon the little child with special interest.  He is my grandson, the third child of my daughter who has a son 6, and a daughter 4.   The new baby is special, conceived in the wake of 9/11, a child of Vigilance whose stock in trade is to bring more beauty than ugliness to a world burdened with the shadow of Terrorism.

      My wife, son-in-law and the two older children were at Sesame Place, a couple of hours drive away, enjoying the water slides and roller coasters and fun-washed acres designed to bring joy and awe to little ones.   My daughter had called to ask for some help in reconstructing her futon couch-bed, one of those metal braced ones that despite the salesman's promise starts to fall apart after young kids bounce and play on them.
      I went over in the early morning and, due to circumstances that included "Road Terror," didn't leave until nearly 1 a.m.  
      My daughter is a Mrs. Fixit lady.   She has traveled throughout the world, and her most joyous memories include building houses for the poor and impoverished in Mexico.   She's not shy about swinging a hammer, or using a power saw, or putting up frames and drywall.   She also lived in Guatemala and El Salvador with villagers, shucking corn in the morning for the evening meal, bathing and doing laundry  in rivers, and staring down the barrel of machine guns by El Salvadorian soldiers who threatened to shoot the villagers she lived with if they didn't move off the land they were squatting upon.

      In other words, she's quite self sufficient as a mother, a woman, and promotes the independence of others as well as her own and her family's.   I was proud she asked for "Dad's" help, knowing she really didn't need it.   That's a high compliment.
       I trundled over to her apartment with my Dremel and Black and Decker drills to aid her.   She had the bed apart, but the reinforcement of it required a couple of 2x4's, and some drilling into the metal to assure they were bolted firmly to the frame.
       Being a good New Yorker (2.5 years in the City from Dana Point, California), I chose not to go to the lumber store to buy the wood.   I had originally done that when I first arrived, and after spending a few hundred dollars for the same wood I saw laying on the streets or in Dumpsters, I chose to go street wood hunting.  
      In New York City just about anything you could imagine is placed on the sidewalks by people moving and discarding old for the new.   I believe one could furnish an entire apartment from goods found on the street, all quality items, if one took the time to hunt for them.
      I walked many blocks, peering in construction dumpsters on the streets,   Finally I found my two precious 2x4's, slung them over my shoulder and weaved in and out of the pedestrian traffic.  I wondered if a cop might give me a ticket since I didn't have a red flag on the end of the ten-foot long sticks of wood.
      Back at the apartment, I used my Dremel and diamond drill to cut the wood and notch it so it would fit perfectly.   My daughter helped out, baby slung under her in a front-carrying papoose contraption.   Together we figured out how we would attach the wood.

   The project started about 11 a.m. and we were trying to hurry and get it finished before 6 p.m., an estimated time the kids would be returned from the day-long trip.
      My daughter and I talked and shared some quality father-daughter time, reflecting back to our adventures as she was growing up, and how instead of turning into a famous artist on Madison Avenue for an elite fashion agency, she was the mother of three working with marginalized citizens and indigents, and had just received her Masters of Divinity degree from New York Union Theological.  I reminded her that her children might grow up to be Republican capitalists, since parents had little control over their children's political or professional goals.  She laughed, and agreed.
       Throughout the day, I kept a grandfatherly eye on the new grandson, noticing how his mother was there for and with him all the time.   Every now then I put his nook in his mouth to help Mom out when she was on the phone.

       Finally, we accomplished our task.  The bed was a solid as a rock.  The two-by-fours served as a sturdy brace, and my stove bolts had secured the bed to the frame with an endurance I was proud to acclaim would "last forever."
       Then we waited for the family to return.
       We waited and waited.
       Finally, I had to leave to attend a meeting.   I told my daughter I'd give her a call afterward.   I went to meet some people then stopped by Starbucks to enjoy a coffee on the patio and do some writing.  Just as I sat down with my iced decaf venti Americano, I noticed my daughter walking by with the baby.  She joined me and told me she had gotten a call that the family had left late, and wouldn't be home until around 9p.m.   So we sat and chatted about life.   I relayed my working history to her, as she wasn't aware I was a shoe shine boy, or sacked groceries, or worked on a survey crew or fought fires as a young man.  
      "Gee, Dad, you've done a lot of things."
      I was in my glory, telling her "when I was a kid," we had no money.  If I wanted a buck I mowed a yard, or cleaned out someone's garage, or did some chore.   I told her about the year and a half I spent in Goose Bay, Labrador working for the Air Force as a civilian printing secret documents because Canadians couldn't get security clearances, and about the characters I met there.  I told her about being a paper boy, and how my customers tried to short me at collection time.  And about washing dishes and playing "what would you do with a million dollars" with my fellow dishwasher buddies.    I was hoping the young one slung around her chest was listening to G-Pa's fables.
      She had to go to K-Mart to get some things for the baby, so I joined her.   We walked back to her apartment only to find that disaster had struck.  There was a message on the answering machine. The front tire on the car had exploded, and the family was stranded on the New Jersey Turnpike.   No one was stopping to help.

      Terrorism set in.   My wife, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and their cousin, another 4-year-old, were immobilized.   The car was pulled off the road as far as possible, but no help was imminent.   The jack wasn't working to get the spare tire on.    My wife said she called the Auto Club.   But the operator said the AAA couldn't service any cars on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.   She wouldn't give up yet call after call was met with either hang ups or rejections.   "That's not our jurisdiction" came the responses
     . My wife and son-in-law carefully studied their confusing road map and discovered they had crossed the Delaware River Bridge and were in New Jersey.  However, the New Jersey Auto Club didn't have a clue where they were despite my wife's description of road signs next to their disabled car and also refused to consult their maps.  A 'mile marker' was necessary to get assistance from them.  There were no mile markers on either side of the wide turnpike up or down the roadway.  My son-in -law had obligingly trudged along the shoulder seeking a marker. The road sign with exit to 303 apparently didn't mean anything to the operator.

       Frustrated, my wife called AAA in Southern California where our membership is based.   We are here temporarily while my wife undergoes cancer treatment at Sloan Kettering.  Doubling up on the "I'm not just an Auto Club member but also a grandma stranded on the highway with three small children and it's almost dark.  You have to help us for God's sake."  She told her she definitely would and not to worry she would remain on the line until the Auto Club in New Jersey took their call.   This final guy, Anthony, consulted an actual map and informed them they were on a transition part of the highway preceding the New Jersey Turnpike.  He took the time to listen to their plea, and suggested calling 911  since the number for the roadway assistance for their area was hard to reach and would take an even longer time then they'd already waited.  He attempted the number for them but had no luck.  He told my son-in-law again to call 911.  If the Highway Patrol  requested AAA, then they would come.
       Trucks were swishing by, rocking the car even though it was as far off the traffic lanes as possible.  The kids were getting scared, worried about "monsters in the night."   It was dark.   Two and a half hours had passed.  The cell phone pre-pay card was almost depleted.
      Anthony's advice worked.  They called 911, were treated kindly and were guaranteed help that arrived twenty minutes later.

      My daughter and I were at the other end, keeping abreast of the news.   My daughter's mother instincts conjured up all sort of scenes, and we waited for the call they had been towed to a service station.
      Finally, it came.   They had been rescued.  Now they waited for the tire to be replaced.  
      I hadn't spent a full day with my daughter in a long time.   We started out having fun, working together, we ended up in the middle of a crisis, now, we patiently waited for the arrival of the family.
      It was approaching 1 a.m. when they drove up.  I opened the gate and let them in, carried the kids to the bedroom, and re-listened to the horror story of how AAA had refused to help, had hung up on them, and finally one valiant guy had taken the time to assist them--two and a half hours later.
     As I walked home with my wife, I reflected on the day.   It had been both Vigilant and Terror-ridden.   I had started out just to help her fix a bed, and was able to offer soothing comfort during a time of crisis.  
      I thought about the lack of Vigilance on the part of AAA.  It seemed such a crime to not go to any lengths to help out a family stranded on a lonely road, with trucks whizzing by, the car with three small children, a cancer-stricken grandmother making call after call to the Auto Club, a frenzied father unable to operate the faulty jack pacing up and down the shoulder trying to stay cool and a new mother at home.
      My wife was incredibly upset at AAA.   One of the Auto Club operators she reached asked for her address, and when she gave a New York address, the one we are temporarily staying at, the person laughed and said, "you're not the person you say you are.  The address we have for you is in California."   When she tried to explain she was temporarily here in New York undergoing special chemotherapy and that she had been careful to change her membership address, the person just hung up.
     "It was awful," she said.  "We felt so alone."

     Terrorism has many forms.   It struck me that people who are in the Emergency Services business have a special duty to render assistance, one that equals a fireman or a policeman.  Had something terrible happened, Triple AAA would have paid the price for its negligence, its Complacency.
     My daughter was familiar with "Road Terror."  One of her close friends was rear-ended a number of years ago while parked on the side of a road with car trouble.  Three of her passengers were killed instantly, but she miraculously  survived.   As a family, we had gone up to the trauma center in Bakersfield, California, where she lay critically wounded and stayed for a week, offering prayers and support.
     The evening with my daughter was fraught with Fear fighting the Courage to not Fear, Conviction battling with Intimidation that something would happen, and the ability to take the Right Action versus fall into a state of Complacency.
      We all hugged one another upon the safe return of the kids and adults.   Vigilance had won out, because of the last desperate phone call, and the advice of the Vigilant man who suggested the call to 911.
       As a Citizen of Vigilance, I wonder how anyone could be put on the phone to answer emergency services without having some compassion, and without going the "extra mile" to help anyone who is stranded--especially a grandmother with three little kids on a dark road.
       It only reminds me that Terrorism is not just about Osama bin Laden, it is a state of mind that infects far too many, especially Triple A Auto Club emergency road service workers.

       The hang ups, the disconnects, the words, "that's out of our jurisdiction," without any effort to resolve the problem all conspire to make one want to tear up one's AAA card.
       But that would feed more Terrorism.  Complacency is not the answer. 
       So my wife I have decided to send a letter spelling out the details to all the AAA offices involved, and perhaps, maybe, hopefully, the emergency road service workers will think twice about Vigilance and less about Terrorizing the Terrorized.

Go To July 12--Six Shooters In The Sky     

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