Stephen W. Browne Rants and Raves

February 13, 2013

The kindness of strangers

Filed under: Op-eds — Stephen W. Browne @ 8:41 am

Note: This is my weekly column.

My children and I came back from the Twin Cities this past Sunday after spending a weekend at the Mall of America, a journey that was not without incident.

I had a seminar class to teach in Redwood Falls, and on occasions like this I very often have to bring them along if I can’t find a sitter for my six-year-old. Soooo, I promised them if they were patient and sat around the corridor of a school bored out of their minds for seven hours straight, I’d take them to the Mall of America.

By Saturday, a winter storm warning complicated things a bit, so we stayed in a motel and I deferred the decisions whether to return on Sunday or wait another day, given that school would probably be cancelled.

Well fools rush in. I decided to come back on Sunday, after the freezing rain and snow of the night before, knowing the trip would take at least twice as long but still hoping to beat the blizzard.

In winter I do have extra blankets in the car, an emergency kit and entrenching tool of course.

Just outside of Norwood-Young America we hit a patch of slush and dove into the ditch.

But within a few minutes of sliding into the ditch, people started stopping to ask if we needed help. One gentleman got out of his car, walked up to us and told me to shut off the engine because the tail pipe was buried in snow.

Another couple asked if we needed a ride anywhere.

All in all, I think more people stopped than passed by, except when they saw somebody had already stopped.

Of course I have AAA, and of course they did their best, and of course they were swamped. Ultimately they recommended we find a motel for the night.

Having an AAA membership is something I’d recommend for everyone who ever drives outside the city limits. Triple-A is the finest example of non-government social power I can think of. But even they get swamped in weather like this.

Just as we were starting to unpack, no less than two cars stopped, carrying an elderly couple and one young man. They agreed since I had all-wheel drive they could probably get us out.

The elderly gentleman hooked up a tow cable, the young guy started shoveling in the back, with some assistance from my 11-year-old. After waving off yet another driver who stopped to offer assistance, they got us out and on our way.

Nor was that the end of it. Down the road I stopped at an intersection briefly to check a suspicious noise. A driver coming crossways stopped, rolled down his window and asked if I needed help.

A few minutes later AAA called back and asked how we were doing. I told them everything was OK, we’d gotten out with the help of kind strangers.

The operator said, “I’ve been hearing that all night.”

This is not the first time this has happened to me, nor the only place in America. It seems to happen more often in rural areas, but perhaps that’s because in more densely populated places people assume help is more conveniently available.

I was going to say that natural disasters bring out the best in people. But I don’t actually think disaster brings it out.

It’s always there, we just don’t get a chance to see it as often.

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