Take along a senior citizen for trip insurance

September 09, 2003

Chivalry is not dead! There are still knights on white horses appearing at the most surprising times and places. As you may have guessed, my faith in humankind has been restored by strangers going out of their way to perform great acts of kindness.

We were returning from a week at the beach and were just a few miles east of the beltway around Washington when one of the rear tires gave up the ghost with a mighty whoosh. My niece managed by great skill and a little luck to steer our lurching vehicle over to the shoulder of the highway. Three lanes of steady traffic were swishing past us in either direction.

She called her husband, who was making the trip in his truck, but he was ahead of us and would have to find an exit to turn around and locate us. She called the automobile service and it agreed to come to our rescue but it would be a couple of hours before it could get there. So when all else fails, read the directions. We poured over the chapter in the instruction manual on "How to Change a Tire." The first sentence told us to find an instrument behind the back seat and insert the rod into the hole in the rear bumper to extract the space tire. Since we were unable to locate either the instrument or the hole, this did not boost our confidence in our ability to change the tire.


But, miracle of miracles, at this point, two (not just one, but two) vehicles pulled off the road. These were ordinary citizens who had seen us puzzling over the book of instructions as they passed by, made the effort to turn around and come back to offer their assistance. One man even jumped out of his truck carrying a heavy duty jack. The other man, who is a paramedic in his spare time, left the air conditioning running in his vehicle so that if the 99-degree heat was too much for us, we could retire to his car.

In a short time, these two good Samaritans had jacked up the SUV, which required one man to crawl under the rear of the vehicle while the other man actually lifted the car (We are talking about an SUV that is packed to its gills with suitcases and other beach paraphernalia) off the ground with his bare hands so the other could adjust the jack for better balance. They easily located the spare tire, checked to make sure it had enough air for us to get home, and took care of all the details of getting us back on the road.

Would they accept money? Of course not! Did St. George accept money for slaying dragons? They seemed genuinely happy to have helped us. When asked why they would stop for strangers, one man said, "When I saw, begging your pardon, an elderly lady (he must have meant me!) and gentleman (my brother-in-law) along with a woman, I knew you needed help."

In gratitude, I resolved to stop and help all stranded motorists in the future. But on second thought, what could I possibly do to help? I doubt that I will figure out the intricacies of tire changing in my lifetime and I am quite sure that I won't be able to hoist the car up in the air in order that the jack can be adjusted. Actually, all I could do is stop and say how sorry I am that they are in this fix, which is about as much help as offering an ice cube to an Eskimo.

Several years ago, we were making a long drive with my 2-year-old grandson who had simply had enough of his car seat and was not shy about letting the world know. Finally, we stopped so that his mother could get out and walk with him to calm his fearsome cries. A sheriff's deputy stopped to offer assistance, which was very kind although not much help.

So perhaps my mission is to warn other travelers: always include at least one elderly person or a screaming baby in your travel plans. It raises the chances of someone coming to your rescue in case of emergency.

Katherine E. Orton is a free-lance writer living in Danville.|9/7/03***

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