While heading home from our most recent homeschool group field trip, my family and I had an unexpected stop which almost resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
It all started when our car’s electrical system started acting up. We knew we needed to take it to a mechanic but we were putting it off until next month when there was a bit more money in the budget. In the mean time, some of the car’s features weren’t functioning properly. Mainly the air conditioning and aux port.
No big deal, we thought. We’ll drive with the windows rolled down to stay cool, and the only thing we used the aux port for was plugging in our GPS navigator, which has a battery we could use instead.
We set out to our field trip destination without incident. An hour away, smooth sailing the entire time.
On the way home, however, our GPS battery died leaving us lost. We pulled over at a gas station and managed to get directions from our android phones. With directions in hand, we set out again feeling confident that we’d be home in no time at all. Less than 2 minutes later we pulled up to a railroad crossing. Thats when things really started falling apart on us.
THE TRAIN WAS STOPPED ON THE TRACKS!
Only the last half of the last car was parked on the road. If the train had just pulled forward another 5 or 6 feet, the tracks would have been clear and safe for crossing. Because the train was parked in such a way that it blocked a lane of traffic, the crossing arms remained down.
After 5 minutes, one car pulled out of the lane, drove around the crossing arms, around the train, and off out of sight.
Several more cars pulled out, did a u-turn, and went back the way they came.
We watched a semi-truck attempt a u-turn and nearly run over a motorcycle in the que behind them.
A horrible accident was avoided by mere inches.
We decided that an illegal u-turn was not worth the risk of accident and wished those around us would stop doing it.
After about 20 minutes, things were getting hot in our car.
It was 82 degrees out and, like I mentioned earlier, our car’s air conditioning was not functioning properly.
The kids had finished their water bottles and there was no sign of the train moving.
We decided to call the 1-800 emergency number that was posted under the crossing sign.
The operator on the other end of the line was calm and attempted to be helpful. Unfortunately they said there was nothing they could do. After placing me on hold, they came back to say that the dispatcher was not picking up. No one could reach the people in charge of the train. They advised us to call 911 in regards to the dangerous traffic situation.
So we called 911. And we were told that the police were too busy to help us.
Suddenly the train started to move! Very slowly but it was moving backwards. And then. It stopped. Now the tracks were completely blocked. We’ve been waiting for 30 minutes.
I send my husband to brave the awful traffic on foot and grab our emergency water from the trunk.
I wet two towels with the water from our emergency kit and give them to each of my children to wear on their heads in an effort to keep cool.
We witness several more near-accidents as people attempt to u-turn.
40 minutes. I dial the 1-800 emergency number again, hoping for an update. This time the operator is curt. They can’t help us. They can’t reach the train dispatch. They want us to stop bothering them. They again tell us to call 911 about the traffic.
Suddenly the train started to move again! Very slowly but for longer than last time. We let our selves grow hopeful. And then. It stopped. The tracks were still completely blocked. We’ve been waiting 45 minutes. The children are flush. I remove their shoes and re-wet their towels with the last of my emergency water.
So we called 911 again. And we again were told that the police were too busy to help us.
I plead with the operator. I tell her that I’ve seen a man on a motor cycle nearly run over by a semi truck attempting to u-turn. I tell her that my children are over heating and we’re out of water. I am told to call back when we need an ambulance.
As we hang up the phone, the train starts to move for a third time. It stops almost immediately. The tracks remain blocked.
After 50 minutes of waiting we are out of water and low on gas. We decide that the risk of an illegal u-turn is now worthwhile. We know we can’t stay put any longer. But. We were sandwiched between a motorcycle and a pick-up truck, too close to either vehicle to move.
I notice that my son seems to be subtly shaking, I reach out to him only to realize that he is not shaking- I am.
My son is completely fine. But I am shaking.
The train starts to move for a fourth time. Again it stops almost immediately. Again, the tracks remain blocked.
I get dizzy, light-headed.
I’ve given the children all of the water.
Beyond being a bit cranky and a bit thirsty, they are fine.
In my efforts to keep them safe, I’ve forgotten to take care of myself.
I fear I am going to pass out.
The world starts to spin, I’m nauseous, and my head hurts so bad.
I’m about to break down and ask my husband to call me an ambulance.
Finally, the motorcycle in front of us leaves. We now have the room we need in order to move our car.
My husband preforms and illegal u-turn as cautiously as possible (though its still a far cry from truly safe).
We drive less than two minutes back to the gas station that we had stopped at an hour and ten minutes earlier.
We purchase Gatorade, re-group, and find another route home.
Months ago I put together an emergency kit in our car. I felt a bit silly at the time because we live on a budget and it felt wrong to take money from things we wanted right away and put it towards something we may or may not use eventually. Today we needed that emergency kit. And I was so glad we had it.
I urge all of you to prepare an emergency kit for your car as well, if you have not already.
I highly recommend the AAA 76-Piece Excursion Road Kit, its what we have in our trunk. Besides the AAA kit, which contains bandages and flashlights and jumper cables and such, I also highly recommend you have some towels or blankets on hand. As well as some water. I made the mistake of keeping half a gallon of water on hand. This was not enough. I will be switching to a full gallon, possibly even two gallons, after my experiences today.
Also, I plan on purchasing a solar powered phone charger. As difficult as today was, it would have been much worse had we not had the use of our cell phones to call for help (which admittedly never came) and look up alternate directions home.
You might also consider keeping some cash in your emergency kit, even $20 is enough to get some gas in a pinch.
I like to keep non-perishable snack foods (dried fruit, salted nuts, etc.) as well as a change of clothes for each family member.
Even though our dog wasn’t with us today, we would have been prepared if he were. We always keep a doggie dish, a small baggie of kibble, and a chew toy stashed in the emergency kit. All pet owners should take their fur-babies into consideration when prepping for the unknown.
My one regret in regards to today, our emergency kit, and how we handled it was quite simply: water.
If I could have a do-over, I would pack more water.
If I could have a do-over, I would have made sure to give myself some of the water.
Keep in mind that when there is an emergency situation, you have to take care of yourself, otherwise you won’t be able to help your children. This is a lesson I learned the hard way today.
Have you ever had to use the emergency kit in your car? What were you most grateful to have on hand?