It's a muggy Friday morning as the good people of Carrollwood start their engines and brace for rush hour. Irma Ambuter, my husband's aunt, is one of them. A formidable woman of 82, she is headed for a medical treatment at Tampa General Hospital.
She tries the key in her 1997 Buick Skylark, but the engine won't turn over. The man from AAA tells her it's the battery, though she's not buying it. He gives her a jump and instructs her to keep the car running until she can get to a garage.
So off she goes down Gunn Highway, toward Century Buick on N Dale Mabry, where she will give the mechanics what-for and then take a service car to the hospital.
She gets as far as the left turn lane onto Linebaugh Avenue _ a little bit into the intersection, actually _ and then the car stops. The dashboard lights up like a Christmas tree. Every electronic indicator sounds at once. The gearshift freezes in drive. The door is locked electronically. Aunt Irma is trapped in a car that is sticking out in Gunn Highway traffic.
And it's raining buckets.
"I started to think, "I'm in trouble,'
" she said. "And when I couldn't get out _ well, I was feeling apprehensive. I thought, "I'm in trouble, really in trouble.'
Now, to appreciate this story, you almost have to know Aunt Irma. To say she has strong opinions about things is like saying it gets hot in Florida. Not many things surprise this woman who was widowed 30 years ago and still runs several garden clubs.
Not until Friday, that is. To hear her describe the events that followed:
+ A young man pulled up in a white truck, offering to help. "I can't get out of the car," she told him. "Then he pulled, and I pushed, and somehow, we got the door open." Parking behind her so she wouldn't be hit, the man then left to call AAA. When he returned, he handed her a cold Sprite.
+ Aunt Irma, meanwhile, was directing traffic in the rain. Nearly everyone who passed was sympathetic, and a good 15 to 20 motorists pulled over, offering to help. "Anyone who had a cell phone asked, "Is there anyone who I can call?'
" she said.
+ A Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy suggested she get back into the Buick while he directed traffic. Still not trusting the door locks, Aunt Irma declined. The AAA tow truck arrived and, with some work, they loaded the car onto a flatbed.
+ An ambulance came to the scene, with three paramedics. "We got a call that somebody was in serious trouble inside the car," one of them told her. She assured them there were no injured passengers; still, they stuck around until they were certain she did not need them.
+ The truck's cabin was a good 2 feet off the ground, and Aunt Irma could not climb inside. So the sheriff's deputy offered to drive her to the dealership in his squad car.
+ At this point another stranger pulled up, a middle-aged man in a sedan. Seeing her struggle, she said, "he put one hand on each of my elbows and lifted me up like I was a feather" until she was safely in the cab.
Then Aunt Irma rode to Century Buick. Once there, the tow truck driver stood by to make sure she climbed down without incident. She gave the Buick people what-for ("I wasn't a happy camper _ this car is less than 2 years old") but they were as polite as could be. The battery and alternator were shot, but the car was under warranty.
A courtesy car took Aunt Irma to Tampa General, where she received her shots. She took a cab home, and a neighbor helped her retrieve her car.
For days she reflected on Friday's events, so different from the "road rage" she had heard so much about. She asked if I could get her story into the newspaper as a counterbalance to the others. "I've learned you should have more confidence in your fellow man," said this woman who _ well, I won't dare call her a cynic, but I don't think she'd object to the word "tough."
She hopes some of those who treated her so kindly will read today's paper. She wants to thank them.
"And you know what I'm going to do next?" she added. "I'm going to buy a cell phone."