Industrial Arts

Eva Murray: Roadside assistance

Posted:  Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 11:15pm
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Holiday travel is often a runaround on a good day, and the usual complications of island logistics can make even a routine trip across the bay into a three-day dog-and-pony-show. To be on an island for Thursday when the weather sounds bad on Wednesday means there’s nothing to be done but clear the schedule for Tuesday, begging the day off from employers, turning in schoolwork early and making arrangements for substitutes, as travel to an island is always and forever about the weather.

The following is very roughly what I overheard our daughter relate on the telephone on Tuesday afternoon, as she stood in the kitchen on Matinicus Island (having done all of the above schedule-shuffling) home to join in the construction of our wood-fired turkey and absurd excess of pies. Along the lines of “What are you thankful for,” I offer this bit of gratitude:

“Hi, Grammy Pat. Yup, I’m on Matinicus. Until the plane had its wheels on the ground I was absolutely convinced I wasn’t going to get here. It only took six hours from Brunswick…

“I was booked for the morning mail flight, which usually leaves Owl’s Head at 8:30. On Monday afternoon everybody thought they would be flying on time this morning. The weather wasn’t expected to go downhill until late in the day. This morning I left Bowdoin at 6 a.m. so I’d have time to stop at the grocery store. That was pretty funny in itself because I was checking out at 6:15 a.m. with a bottle of Bailey’s, a six-pack of hard cider and a bottle of aspirin because that’s what different people had asked me to pick up. The clerk eyed my purchases and said, ‘Expecting to have a rough Thanksgiving, dear?’

“By time it was light out it was snowing hard; at one point I was in a complete white-out blizzard and the water was freezing on the road. You could just barely see the car ahead of you. I called home to tell my dad that I was turning around because clearly I wouldn’t be able to get to the island, and he said, ‘Well, it’s still flyable here.’ That sounded pretty optimistic because I don’t think it could have been flyable in Rockland.

“Right about then, a little north of Bath, I stepped on the brakes and the thing made some awful noises. The car started lurching around like I had one wheel locked up at a time. I pulled over and got out and looked to see if there was a track in the slush that might show that one tire was skidding but it didn’t look like that. The ABS light and a flat tire alert light came on, but I didn’t have any flat tires. Every time I turned the steering wheel it made some more grinding sounds I’d never heard before.

“So I’m sitting on the side of Route 1 with my four-ways on, calling AAA and nobody’s answering the phone. I assume they were overwhelmed with thousands of calls because of the weather. I had to wait a while for places to open, but when I could I called the dealership where I bought the car, because it wasn’t too far from there, described the problem, and the guy there told me he didn’t think anything was wrong and I should just drive through it. Of course, he wasn’t a Mini Cooper mechanic so I suppose he didn’t have any idea what was going on, but I was pretty torked that he didn’t sound like he believed me when l said there was something wrong with the vehicle, it wasn’t just the conditions. I guess he thought I was just panicking because of the weather. I asked him for the number of a local wrecker, but the tow truck guys told me they were way backed up and it would be an hour and a half at the absolute minimum. There were wreckers all over the place on Route 1.

“It clearly wasn’t safe to stay where I was, only a couple of feet to the side of the traffic, with bad visibility and people swerving all over the place. Some car swerved right in front of me and hit the guard rail only about 10 feet away. They were fine, and continued on, but if they’d have hit me we both would have gone right into the rock. My little car would have been smashed. I happened to be stopped in one of those rock cuts so there wasn’t really much shoulder to get off the road. I wanted to get out of there before I got hit. So I limped along slowly, looking for a place to pull off the road, and turned into this side road just to get out of the traffic.

“A snowplow was coming at me—I had my door open and I was out looking at my tires again — and my first thought was, ‘He’s going to hit me.’ The driver shouted, ‘I’m not going to hit you—are you OK?’ He stopped, climbed down, and asked whether I needed anything. I told him that I needed to figure out where I could put this car without making any U- turns or dealing with any serious hills or full stops because I didn’t trust my brakes and my steering wasn’t great.

“He said, ‘I’m Jack, and I’m the Road Commissioner for the Town of Woolwich, and you can park at the Town Office.’ He then proceeded to plow and sand a path the way for me about a half mile to the Woolwich Town Office parking lot. I mentioned that I needed to get a wrecker coming and he said, ‘Oh, no problem, I’ll just ask Dale, he’ll come by later and tow it to the garage.’ About then the day started looking a whole lot better.

“I called my friends Tom and Suzanne, who live in Wiscasset, and Tom said he’d come pick me up as soon as he could. Turns out Jack the Road Commissioner knew Tom and Suzanne, too. By time Tom got there I was pretty cold. We went to their place, where Suzanne had hot chocolate on the stove; I told her l might consider getting broke down more often now that I know there’s hot chocolate for us motorists in distress.

“I looked up the bus schedule for Concord Trailways in case the bus from Wiscasset might get me to Rockland in time, but the next bus wouldn’t get to Rockland until 4:15, by then too dark to fly to Matinicus. I figured that I’d probably missed my chance at flying home anyway, but Jim at the air service assured me it still might improve, and that I should come to Rockland.”

Sometimes the only way to get to the island is just to stick around the airport, hanging around the flying service office, in case there is a break in the weather. By the ways, readers, no — there is no mail boat, no ferry, and any lobsterman moving was headed in the wrong direction that day.

“Tom and Suzanne said they could drive me to Rockland after Suzanne went to her dentist appointment. Thankfully the roads were a bit better by then, the sand trucks had been around and it was warming up. As we got to the air service at about 1 p.m., they were just starting to fly. They got a few flights in mid-afternoon; mostly people were leaving the island ahead of the storm tomorrow. Even flying over the water I kept thinking the weather could shut in, we could get into a snow squall and Ted the pilot would turn back, but he didn’t.

“Anyway, without Friendly Road Commissioner Jack and Neighborly Wrecker Guy Dale and Always There to Help Tom I never would have made it home.”

She was right; the weather Wednesday would be completely impossible for boat or plane, and on Thursday they’re calling for it to blow a gale again. I don’t think she has managed to be home for Thanksgiving in something like seven or eight years.

“This is why I’m not in a hurry to leave small-town Maine!”

On this Thanksgiving we offer real gratitude for folks everywhere who stop to help, whatever the specifics.


Eva Murray lives on Matinicus


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