Roadside Assistance Not Assistive, From Outsourcedville, U.S.A.

by Steed Dropout
November 22, 2012

Special On-the -Road-Coverage for Berkeley Reporter

Tualatin, Or.

This is close to a national scandal.

A tire blowout is no big deal these days, right? All you have to do is get on the cell, and summon help. If you don’t have road repair insurance, you can call 911, and pay out of pocket.

Only two things are necessary, a working phone, and a pocket.

I was insured for roadside assistance, and my phone worked well at first. As it’s battery began to decline, it wasn’t of much use.

But the phone put me through to roadside assistance, who were in Arizona, and then Texas, and finally Florida. The 20-year-old Arizonan and I discussed high school English and became great friends. He said that I had done a good job of “locating” myself, and staying cool. Many fail this test, according to the kid.

Second vehicle is a small truck, used for animal control, Oregon State Police. Note I-5 upper right. I had pulled off and didn't know it. I gave my location as I-5, but anyone local would have known, that is, if they even showed up. Photo by Ted Friedman.

If I hadn’t been shivering, I would have been pleased. I reached my daughter in Portland, and we talked, until the battery signaled. I made another call.

The weather was on-the-verge-of-freezing rainy. I had pulled over at the ugliest spot.

I considered idling the car for heat, but worried about my battery. Roadside assistance promised to arrive within forty-five minutes.

I turned on the radio briefly but killed it.

If I had wanted to get away from it all — I had succeeded well.

Of course the assistance failed to arrive, even after subsequent calls to dispatchers, in which I tried to control my sarcasm. As I told the officer, who happened by, “assistance
talked a lot of talk, but did little walking.”

The state patrolman didn’t laugh or say, know what you mean, or even you betcha.
He was the silent, helpful type. When my phone failed, we used his, trying to summon assistance. “Can they get away with this [stalling]?” I asked.

“Sure, he said, succinctly. “I’ve seen it happen before.”

“Is it rare?” I asked, identifying myself as a reporter.

“Not Really,” answered the officer, somewhat distractedly.

“I guess that’s why they say “shit happens,” I lamely joked.

No response.

“The guy who made that one up [shit happens], should have made a fortune, but died penniless.”

(I don’t know this to be true)

No response, but a slight lip twitch.

Now we knew no one was coming. Car spray dusted us from whizzing autos.

I said that I was old and cold — and didn’t know how much longer I “could last out here.” We discussed idling the engine to use the heat. “How long?” I asked.

He asked about my gas level before answering.

Then he walked to the rear of the small truck he was driving, and pulled a large car jack from the small truck bed (he was on an animal control call, when he passed me).

After I moved the car to the pavement, for “stability,” he dropped to his knees and began changing my tire.

“Guess my jack is a toy compared to yours,” I said authoritatively.

“Yours would have worked fine,” he said.

I said that I had had a bad experience with that once back in Illinois and I couldn’t risk repeating that. Who needs a creaky car-jack, buckling, or worse, launching for your neck. But I suspect my motivation was: I’ve got the insurance, and I want to use it.

He returned to his heavy-handed lugging, each jerk of the tire iron, like wielding an axe. His hands got dirty from his work, and the rain made the dirt drip from his hands.

Officer Ken Poggi, Oregon State Police was passing by with his truck on an animal control call. My phone went dead, and Poggi re-contacted roadside assistance. Poggi has made news previously as a compassionate patrolman. Photo by Ted Friedman.

Some Berkeley police would have whipped on the latex.

I told him I was grateful.

Before he left we speculated about why help had not come in an hour and a half. The problem, he said, was that I had pulled off I-5, and was actually on highway 239, not more than one-half block from the freeway, which ran by, to our left. “The truck
may have not spotted you, if you reported being on I-5.”

He agreed that having a local dispatcher would have helped resolve the confusion.

In parting, I extended my hand, and he took it. Not all cops shake hands, nor do they change tires

Later I learned, from the road assistance company that no vehicle had reached my spot, that it was a busy day, and they were really really sorry.

The dispatcher said it was “very rare.”

Ted Friedman wants to read your roadside horror story. Reach him at

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