It was pouring rain on Route 10 in New Jersey yesterday, and yet the man in the antique convertible car kept on driving with the top down.
Good thing he had his wipers on.
Soon though, the rain came down so heavily, traffic slowed to a crawl. Water was gushing across the highway and up and over the guard-rail. Then it started to hail.
So, like many other drivers on Route 10 yesterday afternoon, I pulled over to wait out the worst of the storm.
But then he drove by. The guy in the convertible, top down, in a hail storm, his wiper blades futilely swiping at the downpour, was tooling along like it was a lovely Sunday afternoon.
This time I thought, There’s something wrong with this old man. So I put on my flashers and followed him, figuring that if lightning struck him or a flash flood lifted him out of his car, I would be there to help.
When he passed a hotel with a portico — a great place, perhaps, to get out of the convertible and put up the top — I called 9-1-1.
At first, the dispatcher couldn’t hear me over the pounding of the rain and hail on my car’s roof and hood. So I repeated my report more loudly.
“There’s a man on Route 10 East riding in a hail storm with his top down!” I shouted over the thunderclaps and hail. Lightning filled the sky in front of us.
“That’s not an emergency,” the dispatcher told me curtly.
“He’s gonna get hurt!” I implored, the mother in me now worried about the crazy old man whose car was no doubt filling with water. I pictured fish swimming around his waist, but then, I watched too many cartoons as a kid.
“If he wants to drive that way, he has the right,” the dispatcher assured me, and hung up.
The hail stopped and the rain let up enough that I could see a red light down the highway where I figured I’d roll down my window and check on the old man. I started practicing my, “You okay?”, making sure it sounded somewhere between genuine concern and did-you-suffer-a-concussion-today?
But he took the exit and drove off, his tan baseball cap somehow continuing to manage staying on his head against the chaos of the wind and rain.
Soon, he was gone, and yet, his image still stuck with me, reminding me of all the people in my life who have chosen to ride in their own proverbial convertibles, tops down, in a raging storm. I’ve come to learn that I can’t help them unless they want to help themselves. And if they won’t pull over, I can’t do much at all.
All any of us can do is follow them a ways and hope they stay safe, even if it feels like an emergency to us. Even if they keep on driving.