Our Northwest

Passing motorists didn't ignore this stranded driver

Tuesday, August 16, 2016by  Jon Osterberg

Last Friday I had the unfortunate experience of role-playing a recent PEMCO Poll. It involved a stalled car on a hot day.
     Last month we issued the results of our poll that asked Washington and Oregon drivers: Imagine it's a hot day. You're driving on a busy street or highway and see a stalled vehicle along the side of the road. What action, if any, would you be likely to take?
     We learned 58% said they'd stop and offer help, or call 911. The amusing eye-opener was that many more – 71% – said they'd take action if instead of a person, it was a dog inside the car!
     I had no pooch. Alas, it was just me, driving past Issaquah last Friday at 10:30 a.m. when all four lanes of I-90 virtually came to a stop.
     I was driving my restored 1962 Impala, bound for Cle Elum. The temperature already was in the upper 70s, climbing toward 90.
     Traffic crawled – barely – in the far left lane, so I moved over that way. Immediately, traffic stopped. Within minutes I realized I was trapped. And at 10:45, after 15 minutes of idling in the heat, my car stalled.
     Oh crap. This was a problem I'd run into once before. My radiator didn't boil over, but the motor got so hot that gasoline in the fuel line and carburetor literally started percolating. I managed to shove the car across the left shoulder and onto the median, where I got out and lifted the hood.
     My smartphone told me a bad blocking accident lay up ahead near Preston, and I-90 had become a parking lot. I decided to stay where I was and wait for traffic to flow. My Impala would start once the motor cooled, but I knew it would stall again unless it kept moving.
     So that's where I unwittingly role-played our PEMCO Poll. I remained parked on that unshaded median for 3 hours, 25 minutes. Not until 2:10 p.m. did eastbound traffic start rolling. During that time:

  • Six drivers, passing at a crawl, asked me if I needed their cell phone to call for help.
  • Many more hollered to ask if I was OK; I smiled and flashed thumbs up.
  • About 14 or 15 offered me bottled water. A young boy hopped out of a minivan, jogged over, and handed me a cold Snapple!
  • One middle-aged woman pulled over in front of me and walked back to see if I needed help. She said her husband operates a tow truck and had the inside scoop on the status of clearing the crash scene, which she shared.
  • A state trooper parked behind me, walked up and asked if I was OK. I assured him I was, that I was just waiting for traffic to flow. He said he stopped because someone had reported I was "slumped over" inside my car. Apparently, it looked that way whenever I leaned out the window to detect any traffic movement ahead.
     Some final thoughts. If you wonder, why didn't I wait for the engine to cool, then do a U-turn across the median onto westbound I-90? I pondered that long and hard but feared I'd bottom out. The median had a steep incline.

     It also may interest you to know that I asked the trooper if I'd get a ticket for running across the westbound lanes to relieve myself in the bushes. (I'd consumed 20 ounces of coffee that morning.) The trooper said, despite the traffic scenario, yes, I could get ticketed, but if I wanted to take my chances crossing the stalled eastbound lanes, that was my decision.

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