Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Not-So-Kindness of Strangers

I remember this one time, around Christmas, when J, E, and I were on our way to somewhere completely frivolous. I was barely pregnant, it was snowing, and we were on the interstate. We see this old beat-up car on the side of the road, with 3 women in it. They look like they are freezing, and J had noticed the plates on the car were from Henderson County, Kentucky. I don't know how J can notice those things while driving, but he does. He asks if it's okay if we stop and see what their deal is. Henderson County, by the way, is way down there. Near where he grew up. First of all, these women looked distressed. Second of all, I love that I have a husband who will do this for women. Chivalry is not dead: it exists in the form of this good ol' country boy with the dimples and kind brown eyes who stole my heart over 10 years ago. So we stop, and the woman in the driver's seat gets out and comes to my side of the car. She is telling us this story about a sick relative who was hospitalized in Cincinnati. She is just trying to make it home and says she has her daughter in the car as she gestures to the girl in the backseat, who must be about 12 years old or so. She tells us her home is about 3 hours away from our little spot on I-75 South, which meshes with the plates on the car. She is out of gas, but does not ask for money, though she says she has none. She just wants some help to get to the nearest exit, and is afraid to take off walking to seek help because of her daughter and elderly mother in the car. I have just my debit card and $39 dollars on me, so I give her the cash. She starts crying and grabs a scrap of paper from her pocket. She wants my address so she can mail it back to me, which I say is unnecessary. We tell her to use her phone to call that CVS Good Samaritan vehicle that peruses the interstate to help stranded motorists. She can use the cash to fill up. I know from making the trip down there all of the time to see J's parents that, with the type of car she has, this shoudld be enough, and they may even have enough left over to stop and get a burger on the way. J, E, and I continue on our way, though the whole night, J keeps saying how he should have given her a ride somewhere, too. For all I know, I was swindled. But I like to think that if she needed money badly enough to resort to such antics, then she needed it worse than we did. I completeley forgot about the incident until last night.

So yesterday, a check comes in the mail for me. A very large check that must be deposited in my bank right away. Yes, I am on bedrest,but I am allowed to get up to go to the bathroom or to get something to eat, so in my mind this is no different than walking to the passenger side of the car and letting J drive me through the bank's drive-thru. Plus his name is not on my account, and the check is made out to me. I grab my ID, and off we go. I should've known! Everytime I break doctor's orders, though it isn't that often, we get into some sort of drama.

So we are right around the corner from the bank, and J has just told me to get some cash back from the check because we are going to need gas. I, after all, have nothing with me but the brethine pump that is attached and my ID. Right then, at that moment, my car sputters to a stop and J coasts to the side of the road. We are out of gas. Seriously? Yes, seriously! What's better is that I was wearing jeans, which didn't matter in the frigid AC of the car, but it is 85 degrees outside. I go to reach for a phone, then picture my cute little Coach bag sitting on the kitchen table at home--the same exact bag I decided I didn't need for the trip. So here we are: a very pregnant woman, trying to avoid hospitalization from going into preterm labor over virtually everything, an 8-year-old little boy, and an out-of-shape man, stranded on the side of the road with no cash and no phone. Better yet, we have this check written only to me, and my bank is over 2 miles away. I can't walk that. I would surely end up collapsed on the side of the road if I even tried And I know they will not cash the check for J, using my account and my ID. But we have to try. I search for a pen, and sign the back of the check. I hand them both to J and give him instructions to find a specific woman at the bank, and tell her what is going on. This woman knows us, and knows my story, because she is the same one who is over the lending department and helped me with my claim for the disabilty insurance on my car loan when I became unable to work. If anyone will help and allow J to do this, it would be her. He tells me to, in the meantime, accept help from anyone who offers and leaves E and I in the hot car as he takes off walking.

We sit there forever. Bees are hoverng near the car, so we have to roll up the windows, as I am severely allergic to them. Well my car has a black interior, so this just creates the oven effect in the car. E is starting to get redder and redder, so I tell him to take his shirt off (there is a benefit to having boys). He pukes like crazy when he gets over-heated, and since I have been pregnant, I can't handle puke. So over the course of an hour, we alternate between sitting in the car with the windows down, to sitting in the car with the windows up, to getting out of the car and standing by it on the side of the road. I anxiously watch for J to come back into view like a savior with a gas can. When enough time has passed that I think that he should have been back and he doesn't show, I start to picture him passed out on the side of the road somewhere, and get more and more worried.

So let me give you a visual on this: A very obviously pregnant woman and a young boy on the side of the road. We're not dressed up, but are very clean-cut. E is 8, but is the size of a 5 -year-old. The car? A new one. Well, not brand new anymore, but a 2009 model. It's "sunburst orange", so it is very noticeable. A University of Cincinnati decal on the back window, the kind you can really only get when you attend the school (incidentally where I am finishing my pre-med adventures). So it is obvious that someone in the car has some sort of college education. A bright yellow "Choose Life" license plate. Quite simply, we do not look like riff-raff. There is literally nothing about the picture that would even suggest that we are a threat to anyone's personal safety. Yet nobody, and I mean NOBODY, so much as cracks a window and offers to make a phone call or see if we need any help at all. What makes matters worse? The hospital I work for is right across from the intersection from which we are about 20 feet. This may not have any meaning to you, but the hospital makes us have these garrish employee tags on the front windshield so they can regulate parking. They're color-coded. Green for physicians, blue for non-clinical staff, and bright-fricken-red for medical personnel. In other words, all of these people coming and going from my place of business can identify me as one of them very easily. And they all know I am some sort of medical professional. And they are all stopping at the light, so they are literally just staring from their stationary cars. Stellar.

So J finally shows back up, an I am almost in tears, as I see him approaching the car with no gas can. It has been an hour. She cashed the check for him, so we have cash, but there is no gas station within walking distance. I start rummaging through the glove box (I swear, when we finally clean out the car, we are going to find Jimmy Hoffa in there) in search of something, I don't know what. I know I have about 10,000 different kinds of roadside assistance, though I have never used any of them: from my insurance company, from Dodge, from AAA. If J can just get to a phone, one of them should be able to help. So I find all 3 numbers and off he goes walking again. This time, it is about a mile from the car to the entrance of the hospital. I know that security there has some stuff to help employees, as they had to help us jump a coworker's car this past winter. If not, he can call roadside assistance. Well, 30 minutes later, he is back with ice-cold drinks for all three of us, and he tells me that he couldn't remember the street names, but told them we were near the hospital. So we wait. Finally they show up, and it takes the poor roadside assistance guy 2 trips with a 2-gallon gas can to get my car started again.

So I've learned my lesson from all of this. Well, many lessons. Cell phones only work in emergencies if you have them with you. All of those times my mother has told me, since I was old enough to drive, to keep some emergency cash in the glove box? Well, she was right. The little decal that comes in the roadside assistance pamphlets? Actually put them on the windshield. Had I had the visual reminder, I would have thought of it, and J could've called from the bank when he cashed my check. Never, ever, let your gas tank get that low. This is a biggie for me. I hate pumping gas, and will milk every tiny whiff of gas fumes in a car before I will stop, though this one is all on J--I haven't driven my own car in months.

And the kindness of strangers? Ha! It very well may be nonexistant. I couldn't help but think of the women I gave the money to over Christmas. I'm glad I helped them. If I hadn't, would anyone else have? What happened to Karma? We stop for people all of the time, especially for women with kids. Even if it is just to ask if they have someone on the way or if they need us to call someone for them. Where were the people like us when we needed them yesterday?


  1. That's horrible that no one stopped! And in that heat! And you are pregnant! If there is a bright side of this - at least you didn't have a ton of contractions while there or as a result of this. I sincerely hope not.

  2. No, I would've died! I think I had 2 in the car. I'm just amazed the stress of it didn't set me off. It doesn't take much these days...