Debra Fran Baker
Late one Friday morning, on a snowy day in February, four intrepid travelers loaded a car named Mabel with luggage and set off from New York City to a convention in Framingham, MA. These travelers were named Zev, Matt, Debra and Jonathan. I am Debra, Jonathan is my husband. The two of us and Zev, who was to drive the car, are Observant Jews. Matt is a lapsed Catholic ("recovering", as he says.)
Note: Friday. We would be racing the sun all the way to Massachusetts because once it went down, it would become Shabbat and the three of us would become subject to a whole host of restrictions, and we would rather be safely in the con hotel when that happened.
Well, we might have made it if it weren't for the snow, which slowed us down. As it was, sunset hit just north of Hartford, Connecticut, right outside of Tolland. We had time to get to a rest stop, where Matt would take over the driving. Or we would have.
What happened instead is that we went into a long, controlled skid and hit a guardrail. No one was injured. I repeat, no one was injured. We got out, looked at the damage and even managed to move the car a little. Then the state police stopped by us...mere minutes later.
He took all our information, including that the driver was not the owner and told us to settle down in the car, which really wasn't drivable, and wait for the tow truck. In the remaining light, we said the afternoon service, I said psalms and then we sang filk songs. They helped a lot. An hour later, the tow truck came and we were driven to a gas station.
There we sat in the minimart, surrounded by food we couldn't eat *or* buy, and discussed whether we should try to rent a car that night and have Matt drive us to the convention or we should just take a cab to a motel and spend the night there, and attempt to rent a car in the morning. There were no rental places open, which decided us.
We made our reservations. "Yes, four people, one room, two beds." This was going to be our convention arrangement anyway, so why pay for an extra room? An hour later, we were checked in and had moved our room once because the phone wasn't working.
At this point, I want to heap praise upon Matt, who went above and beyond the call of friendship. He made innumerable phone calls, he spent his own money and also went through our wallets, he made all arrangements. He went up and down stairs to talk to the front desk. He turned on and off lights...in short, he did what we could not. And he did it gracefully. He even waited until we were finished with the pre-dinner rituals (many song to filk tunes) before eating, although we told him he didn't have to wait.
We did have everything we needed for Shabbat dinner...wine, bread, chicken, kugels, even salad, so that worked out. And I'd made certain I could stay modest even with two other men around - sweatpants under flannel nightgown, and a covering for my hair. We were fine, and it even felt a little like Shabbat.
Matt spent the next morning calling car rental places while Jonathan and Zev prayed and we made kiddush and went down to the complimentary breakfast where we actually found stuff we could eat. Well, cereal and milk, anyway. And coffee. Coffee *good*.
Eventually, we decided to rent a car at a national chain, even though they didn't allow remote drop-offs. We drive the car to the con and drive it back on Sunday night, we figured, and try to find another way home from there.
That might have worked except that when we got to the rental place, we noticed that they were closed on Sunday. Okay, alternate plan - we'd spend Sunday at the con hotel as well, since rooms there were cheaper than the motel room. Then the comedy began.
Manager: "Who is the driver?"
Matt: "I am."
Manager: "Do you have insurance?"
Matt: "No. I don't own a car."
Man.: "Does anyone have insurance?"
Deb.: "Me, but I'm not permitted to drive today for religious reasons."
Man.: "I can't rent a car to someone without insurance and I can't sell any."
Zev: "Would a gold card help?"
Man.: "Are you driving?"
Zev: "No. And I can't sign it, but I can authorize Matt to sign it."
Man.: "I'm sorry. It's impossible to rent a car to you people."
Jon.: "Arrgh! I knew it! I knew we should have stayed in the Howard Johnson's until tonight and taken a train home! I knew it."
And so on. I admit, Jon was probably right. However, they took pity on us and found a used-car dealer who also rented cars and he was willing to deal with us. So, when they closed up the agency (at noon, having turned other people down), they drove us to the other place, and with only minor fuss, we got a nice, ten year old Dodge Dynasty. This Matt drove to Framingham. We got there about 3PM Saturday.
When I say only minor fuss...the agreement was signed by Matt with his name, Zev's gold card and my insurance number. Whatever. It worked for us.
The hotel had extended our reservation *and* had not charged us for the room the previous night (thanks in part to someone else who wanted the room only for that night), the desk clerk did not require anyone to sign anything and we managed to get registered at the con without exchanging money. The person running reg knew us. She also made sure that someone *else* did the work for her in this case, as she's also Jewish, if not religious.
"I'm Episcopalian," said the woman who helped. "I can fill out forms."
I did make sure to pay as soon as Shabbat was over.
We found ourselves surrounded by very worried friends who were all relieved we were there and in one piece. We even got "mothered" a bit by, well, a friend's mother who is also a fan. It was nice and needed. We were with family and I felt it.
The rest of the con was fairly nice. The panels were good, the filking was good, says Jonathan (as I'm in mourning, I can't attend filking or parties) and we found people to talk to. More than that...staying the extra night meant we could take part in all the end of con activities, including a very nice dead dog party. There, we got an offer of a ride home, which we took.
The ride home itself was uneventful. The guy helping us, who lives in Philadelphia, had us load his car with our luggage before taking off. We met him at the rental place, did the paper work and drove off home. The party was now down to the two of us, as Matt took a bus back early that morning and Zev found a ride of his own. This was good, because we had exactly enough room for our luggage and us in Gary's car.
We got home at about 5:30, safe and sound, and I daresay we will never forget this trip.
Copyright 2000 Debra Fran Baker and NightRoads Associates.