The Kindness of Somewhat Scary Strangers: A Winter’s Tale
See what happens when University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik locks her keys in her car in the dead of winter in the middle of nowhere with a baby on board…
As we head into what is supposed to be a more serious winter than last year, I give thanks again that I have moved to Baltimore. When I lived in rural Pennsylvania with a very long, extremely hilly, unpaved driveway, a big snow could cut our family off from outside contact for days. Here in town it’s the opposite. The bigger the blizzard, the longer the party. I met most of my friends in the neighborhood during Snowpocalypse in 2010, and now I almost (but not quite) look forward to the possibility of a repeat.
There are certain memories of those Pennsylvania winters I haven’t quite recovered from. For example, one day in early 2001 I was on my way home from the locksmith when I skidded turning into my driveway. My Dodge Durango lodged in a snowdrift, and when I got out to see how bad things were, the car somehow electronically sealed itself up behind me. In fact, due to the recent locksmith visit, I had locked not one, not two, but three keys inside it. I’d locked my cell phone inside it. But worst of all, I’d locked in my then-six-month-old daughter Jane, who was already crying with hunger when the incident began. When I pressed my face to the window but didn’t open the door, she cried even harder.
As my house was a quarter mile up the path, I ran back to the road I had just turned off, waving my arms and screaming for help. Though our country byway was typically deserted on a weekday afternoon, just then, a beat-up car with no muffler came speeding over the hill. I threw my body in its path.
“Do you have a cell phone?” I pleaded, shoving my head into the window they rolled down. There was a thick cloud of cigarette smoke, two boys in knit ski caps, a blond girl with blue eye shadow, and a couple of toddlers, but no cell phone. Welcome to Glen Rock.
I told them what had happened and asked if they could go call a locksmith. They said the nearest one was at least 30 minutes away.
“So the police, then!” I shouted.
They’ll just break your window, said the one who looked just like Eminem. Not realizing this was an offer to enter by other means, I begged them to go and they headed back into town.
By the time they got back, I had pried the electronic window open about a quarter inch with my bare hands, which were frozen claws at this point. It was so cold, and I knew my imprisoned baby must be feeling it through her snowsuit. I was considering throwing a rock through the windshield. The boy who looked like Eminem got out of the car and told me the cops were on their way, sooner or later. Some epithets were involved. I told him my idea about the rock. He shook his head and tried to get through to me again.
“I don’t have my jimmy on me today,” he said, “but I can open this car in a couple of minutes.”
“Are you sure you have time?” I wondered. “I mean you have those kids in your car.”
“They’re mine and my buddy’s,” he said proudly.
As Eminem worked a broken-off car antenna into the crack I had made and steered it to the door lock switch, his buddy was out in the street directing traffic. When one driver didn’t take kindly to veering around our motorcade, he began to jump up and down, pounding his chest.
“You wanna fight? Bring it on, mofo!”
The other car slowed and began to back up. Eminem looked up from his work, instantly ready to get this party started; the whole scene started to look like something from an old movie with Sean Penn.
“No, boys, no!” I cried. “Remember, you just called the police!”
Fortunately the other driver peeled out and, by the time the cops showed up, my boys had freed the baby and the car, the latter by kicking away heaps of impacted snow with their giant jack boots. Before I could offer these good Samaritans money, or candy for their kids, or even address a simple thanks to the patient girlfriend who had been sitting there the whole time, they were gone, like publicity-shy superheroes or like thieves in the night, or some very fortuitous cross between the two.
May this winter bring you similar revelations about the human race.
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.