The Force of Phyllis

By Guest Blogger: ST aka @Hidden_Gold



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There are those forces that will appear in your life—either as constants or short blips on your life radar—in the most serendipitous of ways to create classic memories that never fail to make you smile.

Enter Barry.

Barry (RIP) was my temperamental blue ’98 Ford Taurus, who liked to visit our family mechanic often, probably because he was rebelling against his given name. When I was in college in Queens, I commuted from Staten Island and was working in Long Island. If you know anything about New York geography and traffic, you know how insane this was. Between his periodic temper tantrums, Barry was my daily companion on this crazy, road-rage-filled journey.

After one particularly lengthy mechanic visit to fix the engine (ya know, a somewhat necessary part of a vehicle), I was driving Barry to work when the engine failed completely. While cursing more explicitly than any sailor or truck driver, I managed somehow to guide Barry to the side of the road. I dialed the mechanic’s number—by then, I had it committed to memory—only to hear “Your Verizon wireless phone is not in service at this time.” Lovely.

My phone was part of a family plan funded by my parents, and while you’d never hear me complain about that, I was livid. I was stuck…in the cold…on the side of a quasi-highway, aka Sunrise Highway. (Really, it’s just a very busy street. If it has traffic lights, can it accurately be called a highway?! Same goes for the West Side Highway—which I’ll always avoid driving. It is principle, after all.)

At a loss, I dialed 911 and was surprised I was able to hear an actual human dispatcher. I quickly told her my story. All I really needed was a phone to call a tow truck. The problem was I was in no man’s land, as the so-called highway crosses the border between Queens and Long Island, which means the difference between the Queens County and Nassau County police. I didn’t know (and I still don’t know) where the border lies so I couldn’t accurately say where I was located and kept getting bounced back between each county’s dispatcher. I was getting increasingly more irked, and any perceptive person who knows me knows that I’m only easygoing to the extent that I’m indifferent. And I had reached the point of different. Totally different.

Luckily for the dispatcher who was about to get a verbal beatdown, a cop car stopped. Two young police officers asked me what was wrong. After I explained the situation, one offered his cell. I first called the mechanic and informed the secretary about Barry’s breakdown, and she promised to send a tow truck immediately. Then I called my mom.

My Austrian mom, a constant force in my life and the strongest person I know, has established ideas of what’s appropriate and doesn’t easily embrace change…yet has no qualms about rolling down a grassy hill in front of a crowd of strangers “because it looked fun.” She’s the only person I’ve ever known who can take it just as well as she can dish it.

I told her what happened and bitched only ever so slightly about the lack of phone service. Turns out, she’d been paying the bill at the exact moment I needed to make that call. My drama had occurred at precisely the most inopportune moment. Figures.

I chatted (okay, flirted) with the rookie cops—they were cute in their newly pressed uniforms. They chatted back, clearly bored on their shift, and stayed with me until they got a real call. I told the cop whose phone I’d borrowed that the mechanic’s secretary, Phyllis, might call back to reach me on his phone so he shouldn’t be alarmed should a random woman call him.

About an hour later, I was still waiting for the slowest. tow truck. ever when the very same cops returned to see how I was faring. I was touched.

“You guys didn’t have to come back to check on me.”

“Well, um, we kinda did.”

“Why’s that?” I was already laughing. I knew what was coming.

“Um, your mom yelled at us.”

“What do you mean?”

They proceeded to tell me how they’d been busy fighting crime (read: giving someone a traffic ticket or something equally noble) when the one officer got a call from a strange woman. Heeding my warning, he even remembered the name I’d mentioned.

“Is this Phyllis?”

“No, this is NOT Phyllis. My name is Mrs. ____! Can I speak to my daughter?”

“We’re not with her anymore.”

“You left my daughter at the side of the road?! What kind of police officers are you?? Go back right now and see how she’s doing.”

So they did. Sheepishly.

They may have had the force of the badge but they were no match for the force of my momma…whose name, we must remember, is most definitely not Phyllis.


  1. kcsmum

    I enjoyed your story immensely! Haven driven many miles myself I could easily relate. Thanks for filling in for Jun. You’ve left me wondering if Phyllis ever called, if Barry survived, and most of all, did you hook up with the cop your mom yelled at?!?! My mind is racing – in it, you & cop are settled in a house with a picket fence cheerfully telling the kiddies how mommy & daddy met….I digress. Good work.

  2. Oh, you made me miss my mom a bit extra today – she came from Austria, and she always went to “bat” for me even if I got a lecture about it too. I miss having someone watch my back like that. To our Austrian moms!


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