IDOT worker fixes flat tire, saves Chicago engagement date

As reported by the Chicago Tribune (article from Oct. 31, 2018):

Dalia Bazanko thought her night was going to end with a flat tire. Thanks in part to a Minuteman, it ended in an engagement.

On Oct. 21, Bazanko headed into Chicago with her boyfriend Josh Lundgren, who said he had planned a few surprises. The couple, from the Northwest suburbs, was in Westchester on the Eisenhower Expressway when they realized they had a flat tire.

They called AAA and were told that it could take an hour before a worker would be able to reach them.

Lundgren told Bazanko he would have to cancel their plans.

“I was devastated,” Bazanko said in a telephone interview. “I was trying to keep it together so hard.”

But at that moment, they saw a tow truck pulling up behind them.

“We didn’t know if we were getting towed,” said Bazanko.

The couple yelled out to the driver: “Are you AAA?”

Teamsters Local 700 member Mauricio Garcia, an Illinois Department of Transportation Emergency Traffic Patrol worker, or Minuteman, yelled back: “No, we’re better than AAA!”

“We were like, ‘Who is this guy?’” said Bazanko. “He dropped from heaven.”

The Minutemen patrol more than 1,000 lane miles on seven major expressways in the Chicago area. The service, turned into a permanent program in 1961 after early traffic safety patrols began operating on the Congress Expressway—now the Eisenhower—is now available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Since the ETP’s formation, Minutemen both in Chicago and downstate have helped approximately 500,000 motorists, according to IDOT.

ETP currently has 65 drivers who log up to 80,000 annual assists, searching for and responding to disruptive traffic incidents — like flat tires — to keep traffic flowing and prevent further accidents.

As Garcia fixed the tire, Lundgren pulled him aside.

“He said, ‘You just saved my life because I have reservations for dinner and I’m going to propose to my girlfriend,’” said Garcia. “And I said, ‘Ok, well let’s hurry up and get you on your way.’”

Garcia, who has been married for 23 years and has two teenage daughters, also offered some advice.

“I told him to be nice to her,” he said. “You’re always looking out for the girls.”

After 10 minutes, the tire was fixed, and Bazanko and Lundgren were off. They had burgers at the Park Tavern in the West Loop and then headed to a private helicopter ride over Chicago.

“The city lights were shining bright,” said Bazanko. “I had no idea what was coming next.”

Lundgren drove Bazanko to a sleepy corner of Grant Park. The couple walked toward Buckingham Fountain, which was shut off for the season. No one seemed to be around.

But there was a bouquet of roses, tucked into the fence around the fountain, waiting for Bazanko.

Lundgren launched into a speech about why he wanted Bazanko to be his wife. Bazanko, who sells bridal gowns for a living, promptly blacked out.

“I didn’t even see the ring,” she said. “It was like blurred vision.”

“And he said, ‘Please,’ and that’s when I woke up and I was like ‘Yes, yes!’” Bazanko said. “We were hugging and we were kissing and I finally saw the ring and I freaked out because it was so gorgeous.”

Bazanko said she’s happy to know her tax dollars are going to a service she fully supports.

“I don’t think that the day or night would have been what it was if we didnt get a flat tire, to be honest with you,” she said. And “I don’t think they’ve ever helped a marriage proposal.”

Garcia, who said this was his first on-the-clock proposal assist, said he’s happy he helped the couple.

“And that she said yes,” he added.

Bazanko and Lundgren are planning for a July 2019 wedding.

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