Opinion » The Rant

Wrong Turn: How I Took a Drive on the Dark Side


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Some yearn for the 15 minutes of fame that artist Andy Warhol believed everyone will have the chance to experience. Several years ago, I encountered celebrity's dark side. Trust me, I'd give every minute of my time in the limelight back.

My flirt with center stage started with routine errands on an autumn afternoon. While driving west on Poplar Pike, I noticed a line of orange-and-white cones looming on the roadway. At every construction split, a decision must be made: one side marks a safe path while the other should at all costs be avoided. As I turned the steering wheel, I never suspected the blunder I was about to make.

Giving new meaning to the phrase “stuck in traffic” - ZORAN MILISAVLJEVIC | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Zoran Milisavljevic | Dreamstime.com
  • Giving new meaning to the phrase “stuck in traffic”

Seconds later, my vehicle mysteriously slowed. Baffled, I stepped on the gas. Nothing happened. I tried again, still with no result. A passing driver in a blue sedan rolled down his window, openly gawking. Other drivers pointed, smirked, and snickered. All were snapping pictures with their phones. What was so remarkable about a nondescript minivan plastered with school PTA stickers?

I anxiously peered out the van window and detected a freshly poured substance rising up my wheels to the axle, soon to dry as concrete. Pulling my ballcap over my eyes, I slid down into my seat. My fight-or-flight instinct kicked in, and flight wasn't an option, so I had to marshal my resources. Grabbing my purse, I retrieved my AAA membership card; my mother-in-law had given us a membership for Christmas, so surely help would soon be on the way. But an AAA employee explained that tow services weren't covered. She was clear about it. I had to upgrade the plan or allow my minivan to fossilize in wet cement. I dug out my credit card. "Wait there," she said. Like I had a choice.

My next duty was to alert my loved ones of my plight. Thirty minutes later, my husband Eric arrived at the scene and stalked over. "Have you lost your mind?" he shouted, repeating the question for maximum effect. "You have to get out of there before that stuff hardens!" I considered my scheduled meeting — there was still time to make the appointment — and suggested that we switch cars. With a laugh, Eric quickly returned to his own car and began to drive off. But not before taking a slew of pictures for "show and tell" during the holidays.

So I waited in a lonely, transparent bubble while merrymakers delighted in my sad circumstances. None of the bullies were brave enough to venture close and rap on my window — the fear of paralysis in cement kept them in their places. Hoping for encouragement, I phoned my sister Andrea, but she only inquired about my location. Like my husband, she thirsted for photographic documentation. Seeing straight through her, I hung up. Finally, I notified my professional circle of my altered schedule. "I've been grounded," I explained, withholding details.

Naturally, the tow truck was late, and my 15 minutes of fame was lengthened by hours. My rescuer spoke little, conserving his energy. With a loud groan, he hauled out dozens of tools, chains, and a ramp. Honestly, I don't recall all the steps involved in my release but do remember rolling down a makeshift ramp angled over the cement pit. I wiped a tear as I reached dry land. "Get to a car wash as fast as you can and rinse under the van before it dries!" he commanded.

I sped to the nearest carwash only to find it out of order. In desperation, I headed for another and offered up a hodgepodge of coins. Nothing happened. At the third carwash, I cried "Eureka!" at the sight of gushing water. Once the van was clean, I blended in with traffic, but it was too soon to rejoice. At home, Eric crawled under the van and began removing chunks of cement.

Deciding that he would be occupied for several hours, I poured a glass of wine and made one last call. Surely my neighbor Donna would offer supportive words and redeem a grueling day. "I've driven on the wrong side of construction zones," she said. "It can happen to anyone." Thankfully, I had returned to my warm and caring community.

Then I thought about the cold responses of all those who drove past without offering aid. For days, I checked the newspaper for headlines like "Silly Woman Barrels into Wet Cement Zone." When no record of my folly appeared, I figured the whole ordeal was behind me.

But there was nowhere to hide at Thanksgiving. After dessert, Eric shared photographs of my misery and shame. And it appears there will always be those who are curious about my six hours of fame. I still hear about it. And thanks to those photographs, future generations of my family will be able to gawk at my ill-fated drive to the dark side of construction cones.

Stephanie Painter is a local freelance writer who enjoys covering community issues, travel — and her goofy misadventures.

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