Buffalo Gal
Judi Griggs

I'm a communications professional, writer, cynic, mother, wife and royal pain. The order depends on the day. I returned to my hometown in November 2004 after a couple of decades of heat and hurricanes. I can polish pristine copy, but not here. This is my morning exercise -- 20-minute takes without a net or spellcheck. It's easier than sit ups for me. No guarantee what it will be for you. Clicking on the subscribe link will send you an email notice when each new entry is posted.
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Only in Buffalo

The subtitle on this one should be "only with my family."
My cousin Bernie and I tend to invite the unusual and absurd. This is not done consciously. If we knew how to turn it off we would... and should have before last night.
The day started strangely normal and productive. In preparation for a possible hospitalization, I spent the day shopping and wrapping presents with Bernie's wife, Karen. I finished the job and loaded the gifts into the back of my 2003 CRV for local delivery tomorrow... and hopefully a return run to Georgia this weekend. My head was not pounding. I was developing confidence that the doctor would say "no surgery" after Friday's tests. It was the best day in weeks.
I should have seen we were being set up for a big one.
Bernie had corporate suite tickets to the Sabres game. Extra tickets became available at the last minute so Karen and a couple of neighbors were able to join us.
Even with all the presents stashed in the back of the car, I had plenty of room in my car for all five of us and volunteered the vehicle for Bernie to drive.
We were a little late getting there and ended up at the very top of the parking garage attached to the arena... exposed to the freezing rain blowing in off Lake Erie. As we pulled into the space, Bernie noted with some alarm that the car would not go into Reverse. He pulled forward into another space and discovered it would not go into Park. With the game already begun and his corporate clients waiting, there was no choice but to turn the ignition off and send the other four into the game.
After wiggling and jiggling the key and gear shift while mashing the brake pedal, I exhausted my mechanical solutions. I tried to remove the key from the ignition. Wouldn't budge. Tried to turn the engine back on. Wouldn't pop out of first or second gear. Couldn't turn over. Remember those dozens of wrapped presents in the back of the car? Leaving them in an unlocked car with a dome light stuck on did not seem prudent in this season of holiday cheer.
Thus began the descent into 800-number cell phone hell. Honda Customer Service ... only open 8-5. Progressive Insurance... 20 minutes trying to order "road side service."
Road side service is apparently insurance speak for "we will tow your car eventually if you can outlast us." I had all the policy numbers and knew the answers to all the secret questions confiming my identity. I did not know the height clearance for the parking garage. I did not have a way of measuring it. Did I mention the freezing rain? I was in the middle of discussing the improbability of being able to answer this question with an operator who apparently believed it was my duty as a policy holder to carry measuring equipment or trigonomic equations, when my husband Charlie clicked in on the phone. I told him there was no progress since our discussion 25 minutes earlier and clicked back over to... silence.
Another 800 queue at Progressive. I tried the car dealer back in Georgia and found someone staying late in the service department. No, this shouldn't happen to a new car less than six months old. Yes, it sounded like a transmission linkage problem. He gave me the name of a Honda dealer in Buffalo for service after the tow and said he was really sorry I was so stuck in that cold Yankee place. But he didn't much like hockey anyway.
I wandered away from the car to eventually find a security guard who told me the tow truck clearance was seven feet, but that the truck would have to arrive well before the end of the game or they would hold it until the garage was empty.
I dialed back into Progressive insurance hell and eventually got the tow ordered. Four transfers later I discovered my rental car coverage would not cover the disability of an auto, only an accident claim. I considered pushing the car off the parking ramp.
As I was on the phone, the security officer came back to my car and was on his radio talking about the packages in the back. This special interest did nothing for The Return of the Headache.
Karen and her neighbor came out at the period break. I asked them to look at finding rides home for us... and the Christmas presents.
Crying and screaming were not positive options at this point, so I called Charlie back in Georgia and gave him hell. The immobile, unlockable car was clearly as much his fault as the freezing rain and spooky security.
Progressive still had not confirmed the tow when , well into my rant, Bernie reappeared with two guys.
This being Buffalo, I was not surprised that one of them was a relative I had never met who happened to be at the game. Sean is a cousin's daughter's husband who is also a mechanic.
He slid in behind the wheel as I stood in the rain answering the automated call from Progressive with a computer-generated voice telling me the tow would arrive in approximately one hour ... about the end of the game.
I pushed buttons blindly trying to connect with a live person to tell them why that wouldn't work, but surrendered the task when I heard my car turn over.
And looked up to see it back out of the space... IN REVERSE. It went forward, backward and parked like a well-trained puppy. It wasn't repaired as much as exorcised.
It only took another five minutes, in the comfort of a warm suite overlooking a losing Sabres effort, to cancel the tow. I called Charlie to apologize, but apparently he already knew that the adventure wasn't his fault. I enjoyed the game and met two more second cousins.
The rest of the party was a little nervous when we came out after the game. Would the car be towed? Would the presents be there? Would it start?
Not me.
I believe in the miracle of the holiday season.
His name is Sean.

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