Song Of The Day 5/23/2013: Tom Waits - "Hold On"

Let me tell you about my evening last night.

I'm driving to rehearsal for a show on Saturday. First I have to get gas. Then I have to drive to Madison Park to pick up an AC cord and a sustain pedal for the keyboard I'm using. I get to the house I'm picking it up from. At that moment I notice the temperature light on my dashboard is peaking in the red zone.

I stop, park the car, get out. A little bit of smoke coming from the engine but I stopped before it got too bad. Open the hood, notice that my coolant is completely drained. I ascribe this to not having changed the oil in awhile, because I haven't really driven my car that much. Thankfully, I have coolant in the trunk. I put it in. Call the wife.

Then I get on Facebook on my phone and ask the general public, "How long after you've put coolant in a car is it cool enough to drive safely?" There is a minor debate amongst a few of my Facebook friends. I'll spare the play-by-play. I decide to take the most conservative estimate, 45 minutes. Thank you, Facebook friends. I get out, lock the car, and go for a walk so that I'm not tempted to start the car out of impatience. Get in touch with my rehearsal mates; we postpone until Thursday.

I go walking, stop in a bar and have a PBR. Watch a bit of the Pacers-Heat game. Then I get back to my car to see if it got any cooler. I start the car, drive around the block, and everything's fine. The temperature needle is right in the middle. It stays that way for, oh, a good 30 seconds. Then it starts heating up rapidly.

I park the car again. Phone the wife. No idea what to do. I decide I should just drive for as long as I can, and shut off the engine until I get someplace I can stay and figure out what to do.

After about 20 minutes of this stop-start stuff, I find a closed Firestone shop on Madison. I park the car there. More Facebook consulting. At this point the strongest-voiced member of the debate says, "Stop driving. You will break something. Call a tow truck and a mechanic."

I call and tell my wife that's what we're going to have to do. I call a tow truck company. They say, "Yeah, we know that Firestone. You can leave it there, we'll be there in 35 minutes." Great. I start playing Monopoly on my phone outside my car in the Firestone parking lot.

I get a phone call 15 minutes later. It's the towing company. They tell me they've just been summoned to an accident on I-5, and that they're going to delay arrival. They'll be there in an hour. Maybe an hour and a half. It's after 9pm. I left the house at 6:15. So I say, all right. I'm going to go get a beer since it's obvious I'm not going to drive tonight, and I'll be back at the Firestone in time to meet the truck.

I go to Elysian Brewing and have the Nevermind Pale Ale and the Superfuzz Blood Orange Ale. The Superfuzz wasn't the greatest. I check my phone again. It's a little low on battery power -- all that consulting on Facebook and playing games to pass the time has drained it a bit. So I put it on battery saver mode, in case I need it later.

I walk back to the car. I get there around 10pm. Phone rings. It's the towing company. The accident is worse than they thought. Can they possibly pick up the car in the morning? They know the Firestone guy on duty, nobody's going to tow my car in the interim. I'll just have to get home. Okay, I say to the guy. Let me call my wife about this, I just have to make arrangements.

Then I do something silly. I decide to see if the car's really still inoperable. Hey, maybe now the coolant's circulated throughout the engine, maybe it's okay to drive now. Let's give it a shot. I drive it out of the Firestone parking lot, and everything seems fine. This time it takes 45 seconds for the temperature to start peaking, and this time it's going past the red line.

I pull over and stop the engine. I'm completely panicked. I have to get the car off this street and back into the Firestone lot. But I have no idea where I am in relation to the Firestone. I'm not really sure how I got here, to be truthful. After another second spurt of driving, another temptation of the red zone, finally I park the car, in a total fluster, on a residential street just south of Madison.

It turns out I have somehow gotten 10 blocks east of the Firestone. The car can't make it in this traffic. I call the towing company. "Hey, um... Yeah, tomorrow morning sounds good, but the car's moved. I'm at this location now..." He says that's fine. I lock up the car and leave it there. It's still there now.

Now I just have to get home. It's past 11pm. With absolutely no clarity on the bus routes here, I decide I'm going to have to walk to downtown Seattle and catch the light rail, if I can. It is approximately 30 blocks away. I start walking. What the hell? A long walk on Madison, an exhausted crumple on the light rail at Pioneer Square, and a walk home. At least we know how this ends, right?

We don't.

On foot, I make pretty good time. I'm walking on Madison towards downtown. I'm out of sync with the bus schedules I see on the shelters as I pass. There is really no sense in my waiting for a bus, it's probably not going to get me downtown any sooner than if I just keep walking. So I keep going. My wife calls, I tell her what's up. I finally get to the I-5 overpass, just outside downtown. I figure I'm about five blocks from the Pioneer Square light rail station. (But it's more.) It is a little before midnight. I've walked 25 blocks, from Madison Park to near downtown.

There are two figures on the sidewalk, in the middle of the overpass to I-5. One figure is a man, who is standing. The other one is sitting on the railing that lines the sidewalk of the overpass.

Sitting on the railing. That's odd.

I cross the street. I get closer and notice the figure sitting on the railing is probably a woman. Her legs are dangling over I-5. She has one arm wrapped around a street post. Beneath her feet is nothing but Seattle air and a trail of cars traveling 60 or 70 miles per hour.

I approach them. "Is everything all right?" I ask.

The guy looks at me. "Yeah... Um, could you call someone?"

The woman is distraught.

"911?" I ask. Yes, the guy nods. I dial 911.

Suddenly the woman turns back to me. "Don't call anybody!" she says. "Don't call anyone!"

But I'm already connected to the 911 dispatcher. I tell her what's happening. "There's a woman on the overpass on Madison. She's sitting on the rails, she seems..."

"No! Don't call the pigs! Don't get them involved! Look!" With that she takes one leg from over the railing and puts it on the sidewalk side, to indicate that she's coming down. But I've already established contact with 911, so that's too late. Lady, you're sitting over a bunch of rapidly moving vehicles. We're calling someone.

The 911 operator tells me someone's on the way, so I hang up the phone. The guy's still with her. I ask if he knows her. He replies he doesn't. He just came upon this situation.

In my own, confused, feeble manner, I say to the woman, "Um... is there anything you'd like to talk about?"

She looks at me as if I'm nuts. Really? You think now's the time to talk?

Fortunately the phone rings. Seattle Police. They want to know if the incident's still happening. I say it is.

Then the woman gets off the rail completely, plants her feet on the sidewalk, and starts walking east. I'm getting a little bit of her story. "I'm not going to jump! I'm just trying to get to Swedish Medical Center! It's just over there!"

I'm talking to both the police and the woman, trying to give information to the police, and trying to get information from the woman.

The police woman asks, "Can you get her name?"

We're safely across the street now, away from the overpass. The only danger we're in is if she decides she's going to bolt from us and run back towards the railing and jump. But in that case, me and the guy, who's still with us, could probably prevent her in time.

I ask the woman, "What's your name?"

"Susan."

The police woman asks me for the last name. I ask her, she tells me. I won't repeat it here obviously. Then the police woman asks, "Can you tell me what race she is?"

"Caucasian," I reply.

"Did she mention anything about wanting to kill herself?"

"Not after I got there."

"Does she appear intoxicated?"

"Honestly, I can't tell if she's intoxicated or just... you know, maniacal. Distraught and rambling."

"Okay... can you estimate what her age is?"

Little tip for you folks out there dealing with the police about a distraught person you're trying to help out, and she happens to be within earshot: Low-ball the age if you have to. Don't go too high.

"Forty," I tell the police.

"FORTY? DO I LOOK FORTY?" Susan yells.

Yeah, you do, actually.

Then she relents. "Not until next month!"

The police woman on the phone apologizes to me for having to ask her age. I say that's okay.

My phone call is wrapping up. The police woman says they are sending units to the scene. I tell her that to keep Susan out of danger, the guy and I are walking east with her on Madison towards Swedish Medical Center. The police woman says that's fine, and when I see the cops, flag them down. At that exact moment I see a cop car going the other direction, so I flag him down.

Susan is more irritated at this point. She's completely forgotten about the overpass. "I'm not going to kill myself! I'm just trying to get to Swedish, for my cancer..."

The cop pulls up. This leads to the last exchange Susan and I have:

"What's your name?" she asks. Not rudely.

"Paul."

Her eyes light up. "Paul? Oh... that's my son's name!"

That's the last thing we say as the police officer takes over. Another unit pulls up. The officer dealing with Susan tells me to go talk to the arriving policeman about what's just happened. I do. I give him my name, number, all that.

"Thank you sir," he says. "We'll take it from here."

"No problem... thank you." Oh, wait. "Do you know how to get to Pioneer Square from here? I'm trying to catch the light rail."

"Oh... University is closer," he says. "Go down Madison, turn right at 3rd. You'll see it coming."

"Thanks." I look at my watch. It's 12:05. The last train is at 12:39.

I start heading down. I don't see Susan. I think she's in the back of a police car. On my way out, I stop and shake the hand of the civilian guy that was first at the scene. "Thanks, man," I say. I don't really know for what, but I think he needed to be thanked. I never got his name.

I walk downtown. I get to the station. It's 12:20. I wait for the last train southbound. It comes at 12:40.

I get home at 1:05 exactly. My car's in Madison Park.

I hope Susan's okay.

How was your night?


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