We were stuck in the middle lane of traffic on the Major Deegan in the South Bronx when the radio in our car went silent. A few seconds later, the air conditioner switched off, then all of the lights. Finally, the transmission sputtered out, and the car died, right there in the middle of the highway.
Fortunately, this all happened right next to a three car pile-up. Caleb coasted our Jeep in front of the wreckage, which wasn’t really that bad—a fender bender, really. AJ and I grabbed our bags, and then the iPad, and ran in the grassy knoll, littered with garbage, next to the shoulder. We were on our way to our friend Emma’s wedding, and we wanted to make sure we had everything important in case the car exploded. We left the boys’ stuff behind.
The cop on the scene of the accident noticed that we had pulled over. “Is everything alright?” he intoned over the loudspeaker on top of his car, not bothering to get out. “Can I call you a tow truck?”
Then he said: “Get over here, I’m lonely.”
Caleb walked over. When he came back, I said, “How overweight was that cop?”
“Not so bad,” he said. “I think he is just really bored.”
AJ and her date headed out into the wilds of the Bronx to pick up sandwiches and water—against my best judgement, and in consideration of my extremely tight silver dress, I had not packed any snacks—and Caleb and I planted ourselves down on a clean patch of dirt, and watched the bumper-to-bumper traffic make it’s way up to the George Washington bridge.
An hour later, the tow truck arrived, and brought us to Ely’s car mechanic shop, two miles south of where we had landed.
Now, when we called Ely, he seemed very eager for our business. In fact, he told us that he could fix our car immediately. He greeted us in the middle of the street, wildly waving his arms to signal that even though his mechanic shop looked like a junk pile, it was actually where we were supposed to be delivered.
Ely was wearing a purple shirt and a long, curly ponytail. Next to him was another mechanic wearing a teeshirt that said, “Casual Fridays.” It was, in fact, a Friday.
“I feel like I’m in Mexico City,” I whispered to AJ as we got out of the car. We looked around for a place to sit and eat our sandwiches, and decided that the only safe spot was back in the car, even though the mechanic was working on the engine.
Around us, the walls shed their layers of paint, and leisurely men drank Yoohoos while they shot the shit.
After lunch, I asked AJ if she wanted to go up the street, to the BP Gas station, to get a treat. There, we found the best selection of candy I’ve ever encountered, along with an imaginary hooker.
“There’s a hooker over there,” she said.
“A hooker?” I asked. She didn’t hear me.
“Where’s the hooker?” I asked again, a few minutes later.
“There’s a hooker here??!!” she said.
It turns out that she had originally said something like, “Where are the straws?” which I had, in our surroundings, fantasized into something more salacious.
On our way back to Ely’s, we saw a man lying in the middle of the street. Around him, traffic whizzed, miraculously avoiding him. “Is he trying to kill himself?” was my first thought, so I averted my eyes, and tried not to picture a head squashing like a tomato.
The man, eventually, got up, and hopped to the side of the road, where a number of people waiting for the bus watched him impassively. It was clear that he was a junkie of some sort, more than likely homeless. Or maybe he was an upstanding citizen who forgot to put on his shoes.
“Should we call 9/11?” I asked a man standing next to us, who was also watching the spectacle.
“Nah,” he said.
“What happened?” I asked.
“The guy jumped on top of a BMW, to hijack it or some shit,” he said. “The car drove away, and he held onto the roof for a few seconds, and then fell off.”
“Oh my god!” I said.
“The fucking Bronx,” he responded.
As soon as we got safely back to our car, I called my father. “You weren’t kidding about the Bronx being a wild place,” I said, recounting the story.
My father grew up in the South Bronx, and has long asserted that if I were to walk around the streets there, I would get mugged and murdered within minutes, because I was a pansy who grew up in the suburbs. “I lived in the Bronx until I was 4,” I said.
“Yeah,” he scoffed. “In an apartment on Mosholu Parkway.”
“Zing,” I said, because that means nothing to me.
I always thought my dad was exaggerating about the Bronx, especially now that New York City is only a paltry 269 on the list of most dangerous cities in the United States. He probably was. But the Bronx certainly put on a good show for him last Friday.