It was a Monday or a Tuesday this past fall, I can't remember which. But that's not important. Margaret Webb & I had gone to lunch at the USDA cafeteria with our boss, John Duncan. Someone from another USDA agency where John had worked previously some few years also joined us -- I can't remember his name right now.
At any rate, as we ate, John proceeded to tell us what had happened to him the previous Saturday.
"David had football practice and I had to drive him to school," he said. David is John's fifteen-year- old son. "So," John continued, "since it was a nice day, I decided we'd take the Fiat."
John had bought the '77 dark green Fiat convertible a few years previously from Lynn Quarles in our office. It had been a good car -- "has a lot of poop," John said -- but lately it had been giving him a lot of trouble. The alternator went, but he got that fixed by getting a rebuilt one from some fellow and installing it himself. Then there was the trouble with the timing. And some other things. But those problems evidently had been resolved.
"The sun was shining and it was a beautiful fall day. Just unbelievable weather," John said. "So I decided to take the top off the Fiat. David helped me and then threw his football togs into the space behind the front seat.
"And then," John continued, "since it was so nice out, I told David, 'Why don't we take Nugget along.'" Except John, being from south Georgia, didn't say "Nugget;" it was more like "Nuhget." Nugget is John's somewhat scruffy, but friendly fourteen-year-old Golden Retriever.
"So Nugget hopped in behind the seat with David's football stuff & we headed on out to his school." Now I knew that David's school was in the Vienna area, so to get there John had to get to the beltway and then turn off on Interstate 66 for a few miles before hitting the Vienna turnoff where the school was.
"Well, I dropped David off at the school, Nugget hopped up in the front seat, and the two of us headed back home on Route 66, buzzing along in three lanes of traffic at a nice clip.
"Then," John related, "all of a sudden the Fiat quit on me. Flat out quit and wouldn't start again. There was construction on the right, so I had to pull off on the median on the left. And there I sat, right next to a six-foot-tall concrete wall topped by a chain link fence with the metro on the other side. And three lanes of traffic whizzing past me at sixty or seventy miles an hour." Except that -- as I remember it -- John said six lanes of traffic. Either he was exaggerating or was counting the three lanes on the other side of Metro coming the other way.
"And no leash for Nugget."
"What did you do?" we asked.
"The traffic was unbelievable," John said. "Those cars were zooming past me with no letup. I knew I couldn't leave Nugget in the car. He'd run right after me. So I went around behind the Fiat, opened the trunk and got the battery jumper cables out and managed to fix up a makeshift leash for Nugget.
"Then I waited for a break in traffic. You wouldn't believe the cars. Coming along -- sixty, seventy miles an hour -- a steady stream; three lanes of traffic. It must have taken fifteen or twenty minutes before me & Nugget on the leash were able to run across the highway. What a relief when we got to the other side!
"And then," John said, "I realized I had made my first mistake. I looked back across the highway and saw that I had left the keys to the Fiat in the trunk, waving in the breeze. And I could just imagine seeing a couple of teenagers coming along. And then when they couldn't start it, they'd trash it.
"So I tied Nugget to a small tree by the side of the road with the battery cables. And I was lucky, because I got right across the traffic right away. And got the keys.
"And about that time," he continued, "I saw a car from the Virginia Department of Transportation -- one of those highway assistance fellows -- pull off on the right-hand shoulder by the construction. Well, he couldn't get across the traffic right there, so he backed up in the shoulder for about a quarter of a mile, then came forward & crossed three lanes of traffic to pull in behind me and the Fiat.
"I explained my predicament.
"'Hop in,' he said. 'I can't,' I replied; 'if I get in your car, Nugget will think I'm leaving him and he'll pull loose from the battery cables and run right out into traffic.'
"So the patrolman gets back in his car, backs up a quarter mile, zips back into traffic, pulls across three lane of traffic over on the right hand shoulder, and gets Nugget in the car. Then he repeats the process and comes back over to get me.
"Then he gets on his radio and calls for a tow truck. Well, we wait for about a half an hour and still no tow truck. So he calls in again and finds out that somehow the dispatcher hadn't relayed the call. So he makes it again and shortly, the tow truck arrives.
"But," John paused for emphasis; "you won't believe this -- the tow truck operator had brought along his girl friend! There was no room for Nugget and me!"
By this time, John had the table in stitches. "So what happened?" I asked.
"Well," John replied, "When I said 'Where are me 'n Nuhget going to sit?' the patrolman glanced at his watch, said he was off duty now & offered to give me 'n Nuhget a ride home.
"And that was my Saturday," John said. "It was unbelievable!"
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