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          Front Page

Stranded Women Saw 350 Cars Pass

By Jim Belshaw
Of the Journal
    Let's see, where to begin ... Two women out of gas on the urban interstate ... they wave, they write a HELP sign, they point to their car ... cars whiz by ... cops whiz by ... firefighters whiz by ... the women start counting cars whizzing by ... get to 350 cars whizzing by before someone finally ...
    Let's back up. We'll call our story: "Just Another Day in the City, But It Couldn't Hurt If You Got Nice Gams."
    Thursday morning, Artie Ann Ortega, 41, and her sister, Alisha Thompson, 25, decide to spend the day together hanging out, do a little shopping, that kind of thing.
    The first order of business is to drive to the bank, cash their checks and get to a gas station because Artie Ann's 280-Z is running on fumes.
    They're eastbound on Interstate 40 near the Big I when it becomes clear there aren't enough fumes in the tank and the car runs out of gas.
    Artie Ann steers it to the shoulder, flips on the emergency flashers and they get out.
    Right away, they're in luck. A city worker not far away who is operating a front-end loader sees them. They walk over. He offers his cell phone.
    Artie Ann calls her mom. No answer. She calls her aunt. No answer.
    "The guy asked if we wanted him to call the safety people who come out to help on the highway," Artie Ann said. "We said sure. He said he would and then he drove off and went back to work."
    The two women went back to their car. Twenty minutes go by. Nobody shows up to help.
    Alisha starts to count the number of cars going by them to pass the time.
    Artie Ann finds a piece of white paper and a Magic Marker in her car. She writes HELP in big, black letters.
    She holds up the sign, they wave at motorists, they point to the car, the passing motorists wave back as they go by.
    Nobody stops. Alisha counts 350 vehicles.
    "That includes five APD police cars, one firetruck, one ambulance and two PNM trucks," Artie Ann said. "Everybody waved back at us. Nobody stopped."
    But they did get lots of honks from 18-wheelers.
    "What did they think we were doing?" she said. "Why would two women be standing on the shoulder of the highway in the middle of the day? Did they think we were getting a tan? Did they think we were trying to pick up guys?"
    She is remarkably good humored when telling the story. She laughs often, especially when she tells the part about her sister suggesting that she "show a little leg."
    It's the old Claudette Colbert hitchhiking trick in "It Happened One Night."
    They laughed at that.
    But she said she was disappointed, too.
    "My faith in humanity is slowly diminishing," she said. "Two single women on the side of the highway in the middle of the day and nobody stops. Nobody even calls on a cell phone to let someone else know those two women are there. I was born and raised in New Mexico and I was really disappointed in New Mexicans that they wouldn't stop to help. I was hurt."
    They were hot, tired and thirsty when a car finally pulled over. A woman Artie Ann said was in her mid-50s asked what the problem was.
    "She said, 'C'mon, girls, get in,' '' Artie Ann said.
    The woman took them to her brother's house to borrow a gas can, then to the bank to cash their checks, then to a gas station and then back to their car.
    The odds— 350 to 1 (or thereabouts)— aren't the best. But then the Good Samaritan business hasn't been bullish in a long time. At least someone stopped to help.
    As for the rest of us, we at least come away with a little wisdom.
    If you should run out of gas on I-40 in the middle of the city, be patient.
    And you might want to show a little leg before the first 350 go by you. It couldn't hurt.