The trouble began Sunday night. Just as the storm was blowing at its wildest, I trudged out to buy milk and found two women trying to maneuver a helpless old-model compact off our Brooklyn street, two-thirds of the way down the block. Stuck at an angle near a buried fire hydrant, they were pushing and spinning and getting nowhere, with the smell of burning rubber noxiously sharp in the cold air. “Do you need some help?” No one ever answers right away, “Yes, thank you.” They’re too caught in the immediate distraction of their trap, too angry or embarrassed or wary. The women, black and in their thirties, considered the offer of a stranger emerging out of the blizzard. I explained that we could move the car fifty or sixty feet up the street, following the tracks of another car that was stuck farther up. “And how is that going to be helpful?” one of them demanded. My idea was to guide the car into a row of free parking spaces ahead of mine, but she was right: the tracks were disappearing in the snow even as we stood talking, and though we got the car out of its rut, we couldn’t advance more than five feet.
By then, an emergency vehicle had appeared behind the car. I went over to talk to the driver. “Get the car off the road any way you can,” he said tersely. “Back up, go forward, back up, go forward.” That was all the help he was offering, and I relayed it to the two women. I wondered what had possessed them to drive out into the storm in a car that could disappear in a mid-sized New York pothole. With one of them at the wheel, me and the other pushing, the car backed up and went forward a few times, and sure enough, it gained some maneuverability. Suddenly the hydrant seemed to offer a perfectly good parking place, which had been their idea in the first place—I needed fifteen minutes to get rid of my city-dwelling scruples and reach their level of survival pragmatism. And somehow, shoving the side of the car from nose and then tail, while the driver turned hard to the right and left, we managed to move it sideways toward the curb. They ended up at an oblique angle at least five feet into the street. “I’d say that’s a hundred!” one of them exclaimed. We exchanged handshakes and names, and I almost didn’t mind that the store was shuttered and there would be no milk in the morning.