Before the splash, I did notice the police barricade tape strung across the intersection. I suppose I could have stopped, but I was puzzled by its height. It was set far above the roadway. I figured it had to be a mistake or a prank. it was neither, and it failed to stop me from driving into three and a half feet of highway runoff.
It had been raining and sleeting since early afternoon, but by the time I’d started my trip, the precipitation had slowed to a cold drizzle. I’d assumed the roads were less treacherous. The intersection in question was also a highway underpass, and its drainages were apparently blocked by debris.
As my temperamental Chevy’s engine sputtered and drowned, I found myself wondering why the police hadn’t placed their fancy lighted barricades across the intersection instead of tape.
Either way, I had to do something. Staying in the car was a bad option; with the electrical system dead, I had no hazard lights and was liable to get hit by the next hapless driver.
I knew the compartment would fill with water as soon as I opened the door. I prepared myself for the icy rush, pushed the door, and got out as fast as I could.
As I sloshed thru the waist-deep water toward the intersection, I noticed my car had begun to float further into the artificial pond. I panicked, reopened the door, put the engine in neutral, and waded around to the front so that I could push it to shore.
That’s when I noticed the lighted barricades–overturned, submerged, but surprisingly still functional. I decided I’d better get started before disaster struck or the freezing water overcame me.
Pushing the car was easier than I’d expected. I wondered if the adrenaline rush was responsible and, if so, what would happen when it wore off. I was only about a mile from home, but I wasn’t exactly dressed for the weather (more on this later) and my clothes were soaked.
My thoughts were interrupted by a soft splash to my right. I looked over to see that a telephone company van had driven into the artificial lake in the lane next to mine. I watched as the astonished driver leapt out.
He actually asked me what was going on. A silly question, considering. I told him that the underpass had flooded from the earlier rains and that we’d better move our vehicles from the darkness.
Acting quickly, he got some road flares from the van and set them up near the intersection. They burned steadily and brightly despite the drizzle.
With combined effort, we made easy work of extracting my car and his van. I went back to my car to see if I could restart her. No luck. The temperature was still dropping and I decided I’d better get moving before I started to freeze.
The phone guy apparently had no luck either; I saw him walking in the opposite direction–toward the Metro.
Suddenly, there was another splash from the underpass. The driver of a church van had somehow managed to miss the warning flares and had driven into the lake. By now, I was exhausted and shivering, but I hurried over to see if I could offer help.
There were several passengers, all elderly women, and a male driver who identified himself as a Deacon. As we evacuated the ladies out the back door, he told me that they were on their way back from a charity bingo game.
Moving the van was difficult, but we managed to do it. Its engine had also drowned, but the Deacon knew how to revive it. A few minutes under the hood, and the thing sputtered back to life.
Praising the lord, the passengers boarded and offered me a ride home. At this point, I was thinking about hypothermia. I readily accepted; it had been nearly ninety minutes since this my splashdown.
Our conversation was brief but engaging. The old ladies were very interested in where I was going before I drowned the car. I told them I was going to a nightclub. What kind of nightclub? A goth club. What’s a goth club? They were also politely interested in my clothes.
We reached my house in minutes, and exchanged thank-yous. They wished me well, and one of them even invited me to their church.
As I turned the key to my front door, I wondered what that gaggle of old ladies thought of their strange rescuer. I was dressed from head to toe in black, with black boots, a spiked collar, black eye makeup, black nail polish, vampire fangs, and a shredded t-shirt with the word ‘FREAK’ boldly silkscreened across the back. I was the roadside assistance technician from hell.
I realized that–bless their hearts–they never openly judged me for an instant. That thought kept me warm as I changed out of those cold, wet clothes.