This afternoon, as I was driving back to campus from Minneapolis, I was preparing to exit from Highway 77 (Cedar) onto 35E, when all of a sudden I felt a very noticeable jerk and noticed my speedometer begin to drop. At the very outset I assumed it was the cruise control inelegantly readjusting me down a mile or two, but then the engine started to make a lot of noise: a very loud and unnatural clicking noise, along with the painful sounds of going much faster on the inside. "Hmm", I thought. "That's probably not a good sound. I'm already committed to take this entrance ramp onto 35E, but I'll take the first exit once I'm on that freeway." I turned off the cruise control. "Hmm", I thought again. "I'm pressing the gas pedal, I should be speeding up to about 70mph, but I'm slowing down. That's odd." Meanwhile, the engine is still making the loud clicking noise. I was down to about 50 on my speed and I realised I probably wasn't going to make it to the next exit. I put on my hazards to warn the car behind me and started to slow down. The real excitement came when I started to pull onto the shoulder, though, because that's when the SMOKE started coming out from under the hood! Yikes! I finally stop about 200 yards back from the merge to 35E, park, turn off, and get out as quickly as I can, convinced the car is going to catch on fire, an assumption not helped by the fact that more and more smoke kept coming out of the hood in greater and greater quantities. I had two thoughts, and two thoughts only: my computer is in the trunk, and that's more or less my life, so I really hope the car doesn't become engulfed in flames; and, more importantly: I have too much to live for to be caught in an explosion, so I must get away quickly. I prayed along the way, too.
Now, good for me, I had my mobile with, so I called my parent's house where I thought my dad was. No answer. I call again. No answer. I call my mom's cell, planning my first words to be something like "Get in the car now and I'll explain on the way". No answer. Distraught, and in a huge panic, I call the AAA emergency number and give them the details. They send a tow-truck on its way to rescue me, and I eventually get a hold of mom and dad, both of whom come on their way. (My real first words to my mom were "The important thing to know is that I'm okay").
While I waited (half an hour), two other cars stopped on their way to offer help. Knowing both my parents and the tow truck are now on the way, and seeing that the car was no longer smoking, I graciously sent the good samaritans on their way, my faith in humanity's potential for goodness restored.
The tow-truck arrived first and starts making preparations to load the car onto the flatbed. Dad arrives a few minutes after, we load all of the video equipment I was carrying in my trunk into the van, and wait for the truck driver to finish loading my car. I call mom to let her know how it's going and that we'll meet her at the car dealer (Freeway Dodge, where we were having the car towed to).
And then we're on our way. We all met up again at Dodge, glance around at some of the used car stickers in case we find ourselves needing to buy a replacement instead of repairing, and then mom brought me back to school, several hours and a good deal much more excitement later than I had originally planned.
Things could have been a lot worse. If I'd driven any farther, I'm fairly certain the car would have actually caught on fire. I could have not had a cell phone to call for help. We could have not had AAA coverage. And I could have been much less composed than I was. Now, admittedly, on the inside, I was very very nervous, but I still managed to evaluate, process and react to the situation in a very orderly and outwardly calm manner. I pulled off the road so I wouldn't block traffic, I attempted to call my parentals, I successfully called AAA and coherently gave them the information they needed, and even before that phone call I had very consciously thought through the situation: do I need to call 911? Do I call AAA? Do I just call my parents? Who else can I call if they can't come rescue me? In short, in the end, I feel that I did quite well, which gives me a realistic confidence that I'll be able to remain clear-headed if I'm ever in a worse situation in the future.