Last Thursday, I agreed to help my friend Dr. H move a few things into her new apartment. My role was to sit in her car to ensure that it was not towed while she ran upstairs to drop off various items. She is well aware of my utter hatred of driving in general, and my specific terror at the very idea of driving in Manhattan. Oh, and it was rush hour. And we were in Midtown. However, she assured me that it was unlikely that I would have to move. I told her that I would rather ferry her stuff from the car to the apartment, but she insisted on doing it herself, so I sighed, sat in the driver's seat, and hoped to hell that I would not be required to actually move the car. (In fact, I decided that should I be approached by a policeperson and asked to move, I would consider taking the ticket ($150) and paying it rather than drive in rush hour traffic. I kept this to myself, though.) As I waited, I thought about the last time someone asked me to sit in a car and move it if the cops came. It was in 2000 or 2001. I can't remember what led me to run errands with my friend after work one night, but he had to stop at a software store on 23rd Street, which is a pretty busy street. (At least Dr. H was on a side street.) I said OK, and remained in the passenger seat. He left the keys in the ignition and ran inside.
Before I knew it, a policewoman was peering into the window of the driver's side. "Um, he'll be back any second," I told her. "That's nice," she replied and pulled out her pad to write a ticket. I debated what to do. As the wheel turned slowly in my head (Maurice, the hamster in charge of running on the wheel that powers my brain, was frozen with fear - he is scared of driving in Manhattan, too), a man approached the car.
"Do you need help? I could drive it for you," he offered.
"Oh, OK," I said.
Yes. That is what I did. I told a strange man that he could get into my friend's car and drive away with it - and me.
As the man opened the door, my friend emerged from the store. "What the fuck is going on here?" he said.
"Well, I didn't want to drive, so he offered to move the car," I told him. The guy had already begun walking away, muttering "Just trying to help." The po-po stood there, watching everything. My friend got in the car and asked me what the hell was wrong with me. Now that the situation was passed, I wanted to cry. Did I seriously almost let that happen? Yeah, I did. I wanted to puke.
In the ensuing years, I've thought about that incident once in a while, and I still want to puke. How could I have been so stupid? I am so lucky that my friend showed up when he did. Maybe the stranger really was just a good Samaritan who would have driven me around the block and returned to get my pal. I'm glad I never found out.