Broken Down

I was riding my bike home from the library. I had just picked up some books I had been waiting on and was excited to get home. I thought of stopping to get something to eat, but being frugal has been a goal for the past few months and I had some leftovers that I could heat up. I was on Glenn headed eastbound and I only had a half block to go before I was home, with my feet up and my new book in hand.

I had only been at the stoplight for a few seconds when I heard someone to the left call for my attention. 

“Hey, my guy?” It was a woman around my age. She was leaning over her passenger side seat with a worried look. “You think you could push my car?”

The question threw me. I took a good look at her van, and it was massive. I think she saw my concern because she started to throw out excuses and pleas for help.

“I would do it myself, but I have a car full of kids! Please? I don’t know what else to do!”

We hadn’t been at the light for long, but I knew it was going to change at any moment. I looked inside the van and sure enough, it was packed with fucking kids. Not just the back seat but the far back had two little ones sitting inside, with their eyes wide and full of fear. 

I pictured Panchito and Marissa stuck somewhere. It’s fall here in Tucson, but that doesn’t mean shit when it’s midday, and this was around 4 PM. 

“Alright, I got you,” I said. 

“Oh my goodness, thank you! Thank you so much!”

I dismounted my bike and got behind her. I could see the line of cars behind us and I cursed again. I held onto Paul White (my bike) and placed my left shoulder into the center of the back panel doors. 

“Just wait for the light to turn and then throw it in neutral.”

“You got it.”

I was leaning on the van when an older woman with big glasses and huge curls pulled up in the turning lane. She looked inquisitively from me to the van and then stuck her head out of her window and started asking stupid questions.

“What’s going ooooonnnnn?”

Well, lady, me, and the woman inside this van are looking to play some Parcheesi, followed by some Yahtzee. Then, I figured we would have a relaxing stroll through Venice…

“Her car broke down,” I said. I felt like I was explaining addition to a kindergartener. What the fuck else would I be doing behind the woman’s van in the middle of the day?

“Oh, do you want me to call the cops?”

It’s never, hey, let me get out and help you, or hey, let me see if I can push it with my car. It’s always the cops. The cops the cop the cops. Old people treat the police like they are mythical creatures that can fly down from the sky and wave a magic wand, giving you the cure for cancer and a loaded shotgun. I’ve lived on this side of town for ten years, and anytime I called them for something it would take hours, sometimes days. Marissa’s SUV was broken into right before we split, and after hours of sitting at home waiting for them to show, they took down a report and essentially told me that there was nothing they could do. No witnesses and nothing of value was taken. I thought the car we drove was pretty fucking valuable, but maybe I was mistaken. 

“Lady, what the fuck are the cops going to do? We need AAA, not a detective.”

“Well, I’m just trying to help! You shouldn’t be pushing that van, it’s dangerous!”

Yeah, and the woman sitting in the sun with a carload of kids was dangerous too. I sometimes wonder what that old lady really was expecting me to do. Just go back to the window and say, hey, no dice, Nurse Ratched out here thinks this is too dangerous, but no worries, she called the cops. They are gonna be like twelve hours, but just sit tight.

In my experience, people like the old lady in the car are always around to comment on shit, but never actually do any work. It’s like clockwork. Someone needs to make social commentary on these things I suppose. We no longer have the likes of Howard Cosell and John Madden to do that for us. Now it’s old ladies in the turn lane. 

“Don’t you dare push that van. You’ll HURT yourself.”

With that, she drove off. She cared enough to voice her opinion, but not enough to do anything substantial. That’s the best type of help, in my book.

The light finally turned green, and when it did, the woman popped it into N and I began pushing as hard as I could, dragging the bike behind me. Slowly, the van began to roll. I got it halfway into the intersection when the people that were behind us started zipping past the van. I mean, really flying past, too. Motherfuckers were so mad about possibly missing the light that they were coming dangerously close to running me or my bike over. I started to scream at them as we started to pull into the other side of the intersection.


I kept on pushing. I almost lost my grip on the bike and I held on with all I could muster. If I lost that, there was no way I could split my attention between pushing and retrieving it, and I knew these psychos would just as well run over poor Paul before waiting for three minutes.

Luckily, we made it across Glenn and there was a parking lot right on the corner that the van could pull into. The only problem was, the parking lot was on a slant, so when the woman turned her wheels and started to enter it, the van stopped completely, and then it slowly began to roll back towards me.


“Sorry, sorry!”

“Put on the brake and throw it in Park!”

“I got it, I got it!”

So there we were, right on the side of the road. Half of the van was pulled in, and the back half was still sticking out. The woman got out of the driver’s side and came over to me.

“I don’t think I can help push because of the steering, but my daughter can help.”

“Well, we gotta do what we gotta do I suppose.”

“Alright well, you stay out here and I’ll send her out. I think you both can get it up.”

I put my bike up at the top of the hill and then ran back down to the rear of the tank. I put my hands on the doors and got down low. It was just like pushing the sled during Freshman football. In actuality, I never pushed the sled, which was reserved for linemen, but still, I had an idea of what to do.

That was when the daughter came over. She was about 5’0, with a tiny school uniform on. She looked at me with a terrifying gaze that let me know she didn’t know what the fuck we were doing either. I smiled and silently screamed inside my head as we began to push.

The fucking thing didn’t move. Not even an inch. I was about to yell and ask if she still had it in park, or if the emergency brake was pulled, but then the van slowly started creeping backward again. The little girl screamed and that was enough for the mother to put it back in neutral. 

Finally, two men got out of their cars and came over to where we were. They both were black and foreigners. One was wearing a yellow and green dashiki, and the other had on an old long-sleeved shirt with mismatching tennis shoes. Neither of them spoke that much English, which was evident when they both came over and began to repeat help, help, help, in a questioning tone. Yes, I responded. Help help help. They joined the small girl and me and we all began to push. 

The thing moved forward, but it still wouldn’t go over the last hump. I felt so frustrated. I was sure that the two men would be enough for it, but I think even with the daughter out of the van, there were still too many people inside. Once we came to a standstill once more, I screamed to throw it into park one last time.

“I don’t think…” the man in the dashiki began saying, “I don’t think…”

The other one glanced over at his companion and nodded, then he looked over at me and shrugged. The little girl seemed even more frazzled than before, and there were still cars whizzing right behind us, accelerating through the intersection, mad or upset that someone dared to have fucking car trouble on their commute home. 

“No, fuck that!” I said. “We’re getting this fucking van, up that fucking hill. Come on. One last time.”

“I can just leave it here,” the woman said. She sounded defeated and sacred. “You guys did all you could.”

“NO! We can do this! One last time!”

The woman got back into her car, and this time, when she put it in neutral, I got down as low as I could and pushed as hard as I could. I felt my body straining, and when I looked over at the two other men, they were trying equally as hard. We all were working for one goal, getting that lady to safety. This was when one more guy showed up. He was a bearded fellow with small cargo shorts riding his e-bike on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t care about his lack of knowledge regarding the flow of traffic at the time, especially since he was the only other person willing to stop and help.


He gingerly placed his bike right next to mine and then came bounding down the hill. He joined the little girl on the other side of the van, and finally, mercifully, the behemoth submitted to us. It started to roll FORWARD, and then it got over the damn hill that we’d been attempting to defeat. We let out a collective cheer. We exchanged high fives and then the two African guys ran back to their cars, the E-bike guy rode off, and the woman got out of her van and ran over to me.

“Oh my God, thank you so much!”

“It was nothing, no big deal.”

“No, really! You saved my ass! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

I smiled and then got on my bike and rode towards home. My body was drenched with sweat and I thought of jumping in the shower the moment I got home. The rest of the ride was peaceful. No stranded mothers and no unconcerned citizens feigning concern. Just Paul and me, riding along through the neighborhood. 

It’s odd how that plays out. One part of the road can be complete and utter chaos. But if you travel down, even just a bit, everything is smooth sailing. No traffic, no accidents, no trouble at all. Funny how that works sometimes. 

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