Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus cut off.
"That's not good," I thought, as I slid the transmission into neutral and coasted to the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike.
I wasn't too far from my exit, which is 14C. I coasted off 14B instead. He stopped completely.
I tried the ignition again. He started. I drove another twenty feet or so before he cut off again. This time I coasted into a parking lot by the toll gates. "Turnpike Vehicles Only."
Somewhere in my head, I had a piece of information about breaking down on the Turnpike. I thought, "Only certain tow trucks are allowed on the Turnpike. AAA can't help me here. I have to get off the Turnpike."
The toll gate was tantalizingly close. About 20 feet.
I tried the ignition again. Again, Henry started. I flipped the shifter into reverse, then first. I was out of the parking lot and stuttering through the E-Z Pass lane.
Disoriented, I chose the right turn at the fork. I meant to go left. Right was to the Greenville section of JC, over a high ramp that went over the Light Rail. Left was home, through Liberty State Park.
Henry got about halfway up the ramp towards Greenville, and cut off on the slope. No shoulder at all. I tried the ignition again and again. He chugged and chugged but did not start.
Lights behind me indicated cars approaching in my lane. My hands were shaking. I should have stayed in the "Turnpike Vehicles Only" lot. I hit my flashers, turned on my interior lights, and shuffled through the cards in my wallet. AAA...AAA...there it was. I found my phone and dialed.
"I'm disabled on a ramp with no shoulder. I need help FAST."
"Are you on the Turnpike or off?"
"About fifty feet off."
"I'm sorry but on our map, that is still the New Jersey Turnpike. We can't get you there. But you have AAA Plus...it will pay for the Turnpike Authority to come and get you. That's okay. They are faster than we are."
A few minutes later, I was waiting for help. I got out of the car, thinking that if poor old Henry did get hit, then I didn't want to participate. I stood on the curb, with my cell phone flashlight ON, waving it like a flare at approaching vehicles.
A large tow truck arrived about 15 minutes later. So did the police, who parked behind me and flashed their lights.
"What's wrong with your car?" The tow truck driver got points for assuming I'd know.
"I think it's out of gas," I said sheepishly.
Yep. Out of gas. How completely, utterly embarrassing. The needle had just been at the top of the red, which led me to believe I still had more than enough gas to get home. But I'd never let the needle get into the red before.
"Maybe it's wishful thinking and the car is completely broken, but I think it just needs gas," I explained.
The tow truck driver laughed and went about loading Henry onto his authorized-New Jersey Turnpike flatbed tow truck.
The policemen noted my Virginia plates and said "At least you didn't break down over there." They pointed to Greenville.
"Why, what's over there?"
"Jersey City," one of them replied, ominously.
"Hmmm." Now did not seem the best time to explain that I lived in JC, but that I'd been out of the country so much over the last six years of owning this car that I'd finally just put Henry on my sister's insurance rather than navigate my own registration and insurance from abroad, and was going to change it as soon as she found the money to pay for her car insurance herself.
The tow truck driver finished securing Henry to the flatbed and motioned me to come on.
"And as a bonus, I get to ride in a big truck," I announced cheerily. It never hurts to make the police laugh, when you can.
I climbed into the truck. We drove down into Greenville. Nothing was open. The driver made a remark about my caucasianness and my safety, in light of the non-caucausianness of Greenville. I pursed my lips and reminded myself that I was at the mercy of this driver's kindness.
"There's a gas station open back in Bayonne, at Exit 14A." He went to turn the truck around.
Bayonne? No! We're almost home now!
"No, no. Right up here. Take a right."
I directed him down to the Sunoco at Grand, by the Jersey City Medical Center. There, a smart-but-angry young man pumped ten dollars worth of gas into Henry on his perch on the flatbed truck. The driver got in and Henry started.
We pulled away from the gas station and released Henry onto the asphalt.
"Thanks very much. It won't happen again." I laughed. Too ridiculous, and what a stupid way to spend a Friday night.
Henry and I made a U-turn, a left onto Monmouth, and headed on home.