TONIGHT AT 5.30 in the middle of the rush hour, my car stops moving. Horns honk at me. My flashers are on. Surely other drivers can see that I have a problem. But they honk. Do they think I choose to be out here stuck in the middle of traffic? I am alone; alone in the car and feeling alone in the world. I close my eyes.
I wish I were married.
I get the car pulled over and I call the auto club. I have tears in my eyes and in my voice. I do not know what to do. The woman who answers the phone has no compassion and little humor. She wants only my year, make and member number. I comply. She says ''30 minutes,'' and to be outside waiting for the tow truck. I go out and lean against a fire hydrant. It is rush hour, my car is broken, I am supposed to be at an important fund-raising event but here I am on the corner waiting for a tow truck and I do not know what is wrong with my car.
And I wish I were married.
I am coping. The truck comes. The service repair man is maybe 18 years old and has bad skin. His jacket says that he is BOB. At least this is Bob's jacket; he does not introduce himself. He looks at my car. I feel like an idiot trying to explain that the gas pedal feels like oatmeal when I try to accelerate. He doesn't look at me, just asks me to open the hood.
I feel the tears again. But here is someone who knows about this car and maybe what to do. Here at least is a man. I have every confidence in anything male when my car is broken. I turn into a complete GIRL. Not woman, not lady; I am a girl with cars. I am grateful that BOB has come to fix my car. BOB has come to rescue me. That's what it feels like. No white horse, just a trim blue tow truck. No armor, just this greasy blue jacket that says BOB. Fine with me.
Bob says he knows what happened. ''Your accelerator cable popped.'' OK. I have no idea what that means. But I know that the accelerator makes the car go forward. Bob gets a few tools from his truck and in a minute he says ''OK, start the car.'' I do. It's fine. All fixed. Bob says ''you're OK.'' He thinks he is talking about my car. He does not realize the effect of his words on the rest of me. He does not realize that if he asked for everything I own right now it would be his. And he does not realize that if he asked me to marry him we would drive to a judge at once in my now properly accelerating car. Oh, Bob.
Later I say to myself that the $40 membership fee for emergency road service is the best money I've ever spent. Later I thank God for getting me out of one more car jam. Later I see why I wish I were married and why I liked being married. I have been married. hated sharing bathrooms, I hated in-laws, and I hated someone else's food in my fridge, but when the car broke and when it snowed and sometimes very late at night, in bed, I loved being married.
I wonder if there is some kind of training for guys like BOB. Are they prepared for the emotions they encounter when they go out on road calls like this? Do they realize that they are dealing with the emotionally distraught, and that particular woman's anguish: the feeling of ''car incompetence.'' And then here he is, a man in a blue jacket, under my hood, taking control, doing what needs to be done.
And I see that that is why I wish I were married and I see that that is why I WAS married and I see that that is why marriage feels so good when it's coming together, and what hurts the most when it's coming apart -- to be alone with a broken car, lost keys, out of town.
Yes, I do have friends, and credit cards, and the auto club, and I do read my owner's manual. But we are talking about default emotions here. I am an intelligent capable attractive woman who has a list of what I need and want from a mate. I know what's essential and what I am willing to compromise. I have done time in therapy and read the requisite books.
But tonight at 5.30 in rush hour I would have thrown all that out for BOB who fixed my car. Being able to replace an accelerator cable moved to the top of my list, zooming past ''the ability to express feelings,'' ''spiritual sensitivity'' and liberal politics. Tonight a man who can take control of a broken car is my hero. For 30 minutes the criteria changed rapidly. For 30 minutes I wished I were married.
*Ms. Wood is a free lance.