PROMPTuesday #184: Way Back When

Dull lights twinkled in the grey distance, illuminating the jagged skyline. I watched it blur by as I sped along Route 55 in my white Hyundai, heading home late from my bank job in Southside Chicago. It was 10PM and my roommates waited for me at our apartment. We were 25, and it was never too late to go out for the night. I anticipated where we’d go and who we’d meet, because there was always someone. The Cranberries’ Linger played from the crappy radio and I sang along with my broken heart. My pump heel slid on the floor mat as I pumped the brake but there was no need because the car seemed to slow on its own. I grabbed the wheel and navigated to the shoulder, and just made it. The car had stopped, just completely shut down. It was 10PM, I was alone in Southside Chicago, I was 25.


I wished I had my roommate’s car phone, that bulky box nestled between the driver and passenger seats, but as it were, there was no way to communicate with anybody. The occasional car skittered by and ignored me. For all they knew, I was just an abandoned car. Everything was dark, and I don’t remember my hazard lights working. Still, I couldn’t just sit there, I knew that much. A metal guardrail separated me from a weedy embankment that led to who knows where and I contemplated making my way down the dirt and grass and finding help.


I kept my pumps on, and wobbled through sticks and stones and surprisingly strong roots to the alley at the bottom of the hill. I couldn’t see my car above me. Once my eyes acclimated to the encompassing black, I made out the squat outline of a building giving off a blue glow. My mind bounced in that peculiar mid-point where you’re out of choices and the only thing to do is move forward even if it means danger. So that’s what I did. I rounded a corner and very briefly paused in front of a half-painted bar door. I grabbed the brass handle and pulled. A wad of gum dislodged in my palm. I entered the place and it was just as you’d think it’d be: Concrete floor, round bar stools, a buzzing Bud Lite sign, pool cues, a stocky bartender. And a pay phone. A blessed hooded and smudged pay phone standing sentry near the door.


People turned to stare. Mud caked my knees and wildness masked my eyes. I pretended not to notice and made my way to the front bar, asked for a pack of Camel Lights Unfiltered to seem bad ass (never mind the “Lights” gave me away), and took the change to the phone. I knew my ex-boyfriend’s number by heart and he lived closer to where I was now than my roommates, but I wouldn’t be one of those girls. I rang my apartment and prayed someone was home.


Lisa answered. She kept calm once she learned where I was and what I did and how I’d left the car to enter an alley bar with wild eyes and ridiculous pumps.

“Stay there until I can get to you.”


I took a quick scan of the grizzled bar patrons, and my imagination ran wild. “No. I’m going back to the car. Get me there.”


We fought briefly. She advised me not to leave alone and head back up the dark embankment to my dead car and sit there like a duck, but I blurted out the directions and hung up before she could try to save my life further.


I don’t remember leaving the bar or sitting in the car afterward or Lisa arriving, but I imagine I quickly took my exit, scrambled back up those weeds and roots and dirt, pulled the Hyundai door shut, cracked the window and lit a cigarette.


We found out later that my timing belt gave out, and that the bar I called Lisa from was geographically undesirable. I sold my car for $30. I never did call my boyfriend, but I bet he would have been worried. It would be seven more years until I’d buy a cell phone.


I probably should have just stayed in that bar.


For today’s PROMPTuesday: Write about a time when you could have really used a cell phone.

Were you somewhere you could have really used a cell? How would an experience been different if you’d been able to use instant communication?


Meanwhile, post your submission in the comments OR post in your blog and leave a link to your blog in the comments.


First time to PROMPTuesday? Read a bit about it here. Want to see what’s been written in the past? Catch up on the PROMPTuesdays archive here.


4 thoughts on “PROMPTuesday #184: Way Back When”

  1. What did we ever do without cell phones??? Actually, those were probably better times…

    I was stranded in Chicago before, actually not really stranded, but I parked the car in a very undesirable place and my ex-husband had a little fit about it when he woke up.

    I had just moved to the States, we picked up the car in New York City and make our way across to Colorado. When we reached Chicago it was about midnight and I was driving, he was sleeping. I was getting tired and decided to stop, so I did. He woke up, looked around and decided we had to leave right away otherwise we would get killed…. as it turns out later he always checked the car for bombs before we went anywhere and he was a real psycho and that’s another story :)

  2. I can think of quite a few times I could have used a cell phone, way before cell phones came out. Even way back then though I barely had enough hearing to communicate over a phone. These days texting is a lifesaver.

    I’ve been in enough of those type of bars, I can honestly say I would of preferred the car myself.(Hugs)Indigo

  3. I was one of “those” who thought cell phones were an indulgence until … one winter day when a blizzard began at noon. I usually leave around 2:30 p.m. to pick up my daughter, whose school is 25 miles from home. The TV folks were advising adding an extra hour. So, I left at 1:30 p.m. Several times along the way I stopped at what pay phones I could find, which were covered in a thick layer of snow and gave me one, two minutes tops for my quarter offering. All I wanted to do was call her school to put her in latch key to buy more time. I never got through. My time was up before I navigated through the labrynth of voice mail prompts. It was dark by the time I reached the empty school parking lot covered in drifts. My daughter was the last girl there. She was very sad. Two weeks later, at Christmas, I got a cell phone.

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