By Josef Eisinger
When this longtime Village resident drove his Subaru Outback to the tiny village of Olmstedville in the wonderful Adirondacks, it was to check out the very light kayaks manufactured there. I visited the shop where they are built by a labor force of three. After paddling one of their kayaks on a nearby lake, I was so impressed that I decided to purchase one. It was now about three in the afternoon and, feeling peckish, I set out for the village of North Creek, seven miles along Route 28N and the closest place where food can be obtained. This village enjoys a measure of fame because it was in its telegraph office that Theodore Roosevelt learned that President McKinley had died and that he was now president.
The road winds its way among wooded hills, and occasionally, one encounters an attractive vista where an undulating grassy field, dotted with clumps of evergreens, slopes down from the road; bluish mountain peaks form the backdrop. At such a place, I pulled off the road to photograph the panorama. I was a dozen feet behind the car when I realized that I had neglected to put the transmission into ‘park’ and that the car had begun to slowly roll forward. I quickly ran to open the driver’s door, but by then, the car had gathered speed and I decided that it was too perilous to attempt jumping in. I let go of the door and watched helplessly as the car coasted slowly—but too fast for me to follow—down the overgrown field, making gentle turns as it steered itself down the steeper contours of the field.
I was content to jog after the car as it made its way among the clumps of small evergreens, but I soon lost sight of it. I continued downhill and when I reached the dense forest at the bottom of the field, I walked along the tree line until I spotted a glint of metal in the undergrowth: I had found my car!
There was a three-foot drop from the grassy field to the forest floor and the car’s front bumper had gently come to rest against a stand of young birch trees at the forest edge. The car was at an almost 45-degree angle, with its rear wheels still on the meadow, but the front wheels not touching ground. I managed to climb into the driver’s seat and started the engine, but with the car suspended at that crazy angle, backing out was quite impossible. I did notice, however, that the eyebolt at the car’s rear was accessible and that it might be possible to tow it out of its precarious position.
I tried to memorize the car’s location, and as I walked up the hill to the road, I considered my situation: I had to get a lift to a service station that owned a ‘wrecker,’ itself problematical in this sparsely populated region. I would then have to persuade the operator that I was not crazy and that he should help me recover a car that he could not see from the road.
It took over 10 minutes before the first vehicle, a mini-van, came into view. It was heading in the direction of North Creek and I stepped into the road and spread out my arms. Under the circumstances, a thumb seemed an inadequate gesture. The driver stopped, and stepping out, he presented a most improbable sight: He seemed about 50, tanned, with twinkling cheerful eyes and a long grayish beard. He wore a top hat of black felt, the likes of which one sees in Dickens books and movies. The Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland sprang to my mind, for the hatband of that extraordinary chapeau was decorated with business cards and folded paper money. He told me that his name was Bob Walker, that he lived nearby and that, as he later explained, he owned several of these Dickensian hats and wore them all the time. When he was a boy, the older boys used to pick on him and snatch his baseball cap off his head. When he grew up, he decided that he would wear any hat he damn well pleased.
Walker listened to my story with an air of sympathetic skepticism. After informing me that I would not find a wrecker in North Creek or anywhere else within many miles, he offered to drive me to a friend who lived a mile from here and from there I could phone a tow-truck operator. I did have a cell phone in my pocket, but in these parts, service for such new-fangled gadgets was nonexistent.
As luck would have it, Walker’s friend was in his driveway washing his camper when we arrived. Walker introduced me and relayed my tale of woe to him. Though his friend was not a little dubious, he was sufficiently intrigued by my story to follow Walker and me back to the field in his car. We left the road and carefully wound our way down the hill toward the forest; we stopped about 100 feet from my Subaru. After inspecting the car, my two newly met friends agreed that the F-450 Ford pick-up truck which Walker’s friend used to tow his camper might be up to the job. Back at his house, they loaded a long, heavy chain into the pick-up, returned to the field, and backed the pick-up down the slope to within 50 feet of the car. They hooked the chain between the Subaru’s eyebolt and the tow bar of the pick-up, while I scrambled into the driver’s seat, started the engine, and put the car in reverse. Since the grass was a little wet, the wheels of the pick-up tended to spin; it took several tries before I felt a healthy jerk and all four wheels touched the ground once again. I gave gas, turned around, and followed the pick-up up the field to the road and back to the home of Walker’s friend. We chuckled at a job well done and at my good luck at having run into those two guys. I invited them to a couple of beers in town, but Walker had to get ready for a date that evening, while his friend had to finish hosing down the camper. I thanked them but they refused to accept any money. I did manage, however, to slip a folded twenty into the hatband of Walker’s top hat. He had said that wherever he wore it, people were always putting money into it.
I drove back to the spot where I had stopped an hour earlier. After carefully putting the transmission in ‘park,’ I shot the accompanying photo which clearly shows the track left by the Subaru when, in a moment of careless abandon, it began its dash to freedom.