Jack Ryan: Providing roadside assistance

Unexpected nighttime phone calls rarely bring good news. I can think of only one recent exception to this rule, back before Thanksgiving.

At 12:30 a.m., my daughter Audrey called my cellphone. I tensed up when her name was on the screen. Car wreck? Grandson sick or injured? Burglary?

None of the above. She had overnight visitors: her brother John and a college friend who knew me; and after a few drinks, betting I would still be awake, they decided it would be a good thing to worry me. And they did, until I realized everything was fine. We had a fun 45-minute conversation.

A similar unexpected call came one night last week from one of the newspaper’s delivery drivers. I knew this one would be no fun, and it wasn’t. But it’s still an interesting story.

The engine of our delivery truck had overheated on Interstate 20 east of Jackson. He got to a 24-hour convenience store at the Pelahatchie exit but had one more delivery to make.

By good fortune, our printing had been ahead of schedule, so the driver got an early start. He called at about 8 p.m. — which is a lot better than 10 p.m. or midnight.

So, three problems to solve: Who in Pelahatchie can tow the truck to a repair shop? How to get that last batch of papers to the Madison Journal, a weekly in Tallulah, La.? And how to get the driver back to McComb?

For the past several years, we’ve had a roadside assistance contract. But this spring, when the same truck broke down in Vicksburg, they were no help at all. They could not find a tow truck all night, and it was after sunrise the next day before I got help from a wrecker.

This time, I didn’t bother calling them. The role of roadside assistant would be played by the understudy — me.

I called an auto repair business in Pelahatchie. The guy said he couldn’t tow a truck that big, but he was just two miles from the convenience store, and maybe we could drive our truck there.

So, just before 9 p.m. — after Mary Ann and I finished watching our recording of that day’s “Jeopardy!” — off I went to Pelahatchie, about a 90-minute drive from McComb.

Somewhere in either Lincoln County or Copiah County, I decided to call John just to catch up. Can’t say too much about it yet, but he is planning a career change in 2024, having worked in the financial services business since he got out of college 12 years ago.

He also plans to move temporarily from Houston to Memphis, where he will live with Audrey, Zach and 18-month-old Henry. He’s excited about his job change and about being with his nephew every day. This should be interesting.

Pelahatchie is only 22 miles east of Jackson, not too far past the airport exit on Interstate 20. I got there about 10:25 and told the driver we were going to try to get the truck to the repair shop.

I led the way at about 25 or 30 mph. We crossed the railroad tracks, turned east onto Highway 80 and were at the shop in less than five minutes. The engine’s temperature gauge never moved from the “C” location.

So far, so good. The Madison Journal papers were in my car, and I told the driver to hide the truck key and leave the door unlocked. But out of habit, he locked both doors.

I understood. This was out of his routine, so I wasn’t mad about the mistake (even though someone else had to drive a key up to Pelahatchie the next day). And off we went to Jackson, where we dropped off the papers for the Madison publisher to retrieve them a few hours later.

We returned to McComb about 12:45 a.m. — about the same time that Audrey made that surprise phone call a few weeks before. It wasn’t an ideal way to spend a Tuesday night, but I’ve had greater predicaments and much later nights.

I’m omitting a couple of annoying details, like when the driver realized he had lost the company fuel card. That was not a pleasant moment.

It turned out the card was in our truck in Pelahatchie. We got the card back Wednesday.

It could have been worse, but your roadside assistant understudy was on the case.


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