Ethics Not Politics

Paying It Forward

There are good people in this world. Angels, even. Think I’m kidding?

I just wanted to share this story about an incident that happened this morning on my way back from a suburb of Illinois because I think good deeds need to be shared and the people who perform them, quietly in the trenches of life in America, are the reason why we can’t let the bastards drag us down; individualize us into consumer groups and cheap demographics, or divide us by race, sexual orientation, economic standing, or religious beliefs.

I was out of gas, at least I thought I was. Cutting over to a nearby suburb of Chicago where sales taxes are lower are the reason I will sometimes drive 14 miles round trip for supplies.

My Check Engine light came on about two weeks ago. We thought we’d be okay until we took it in this week to get it fixed. Something called a “Cam-Sensor” needed to be replaced, but since there were no signs of trouble, other than the check engine light, I figured a quick trip to get some provisions this morning wouldn’t exacerbate the situation.

Boy, was I wrong.

About 7 miles from home in the middle of a long stretch of road, the vehicle started sputtering and stalled. The speed limit said “45,” but I was going nowhere fast. That didn’t stop dozens of passersby from going around me and probably thinking to themselves, “tough luck, buddy.”

I was miles from my destination. No shoulder in which to push the vehicle.  I started pushing– Pushing for my life. I’ve had car trouble before, but never had car trouble without a cellphone in my pocket. I left it behind thinking, “eh, I won”t be gone long.”

I pushed it about a 1/4 of a mile, on an incline, before my legs started weakening, while my mouth dried out instantly and my shoulders began to realize that this was not our day.

At around 8:00 a.m., I began cursing the sky. I was cursing something like, “how could I be so stupid?!” to leave the house, traveling a pretty good distance through a barren stretch of road, without a phone, and without cash? Stupid, stupid, stupid! All I had on me was a credit card and a disposition that went from cheery-elevator-music to cursing the Gods at the top of my lungs, in less than 10 minutes.

I thought of the 7 mile walk that would surely only signify the threshold of a very bad day once I got to where I was going. I’ll admit it. I wanted to cry a little. Not tears of sadness for my situation, but tears of frustration– mostly at myself, and this “goddamn car!”

I was pushing with everything I had, and I knew it wasn’t going to be enough. I kept cursing, looking around at all the cars passing me by and hoping not to become a statistic.

Then, out of nowhere, I looked back over my shoulder and catch a glimpse of a guy jogging toward me. He was at least a half mile from the country club that I passed when I was looking for a place to leave my car while I walked ahead. The country club would have towed me had I left my vehicle there. I’m not a member of any club and that’s just the way it is. But this guy, kid, really, because he had a baby face with reddened-cheeks and the freshly-shaven face of a guy who probably shaves once a month, if that, got closer and closer, laboring under the Sunday morning sky I had just cursed.

He ran up as I was pushing and just starting to really begin dreading the day, while facing the reality that I had better conserve the energy I’ve been expending for cursing for the long push home.

But there he was. This stranger, running to catch up to my snail’s pace, and he started pushing. I hated to bring anyone in to this, especially someone that would go this far out of his way to help someone in need. Too nice to endure this shit. He commented how he was really out of shape, but it was okay because he was late for church, and this was a good enough reason as any to be late. I couldn’t believe this guy. Was he a Mormon, or something? I didn’t really care because where I was at that moment, it felt like a cherub was sent to my rescue. This guy almost literally fell lout of the sky, except for the fact that he drove a mini-van with Michigan plates.

We’re still pushing and, along the way he’s telling me, “it’s fine, I’ve been in this situation before.”

The end of the incline began to peak over the horizon. We said to each other if we can just get it up this hill, we can coast a little to the gas station at the next light, which was five miles from the last light. He had a phone, but I tell everyone that it’s a speed-dial world, now, and phone numbers have lost their power. I couldn’t remember anyone’s phone number, barely my own.

We get there. Tired, trembling a little from the effort, and I try to use my credit card to buy a gas can and some gas. No good. For some reason, this gas station doesn’t accept credit cards. The Cherub says, “That’s okay, I’ll get it– I needed a gas can anyway.”

I felt like telling him that it’s a dangerous world, and he should be a little more careful with his sort of naive kindness and blind generosity, but why?

He bought the can and the gas. $9.99 + $4.87 + whatever time and energy he’s already spent helping me– a stranger on the road.

I wasn’t out of gas, though, and my battery wasn’t dead. I know this because he helped me jump-start it, too– to no avail. I was getting sick thinking about the walk. Thinking about how his kindness and generosity– his comforting words and presence– feeling bad for myself, and bad for him at the same time. I didn’t want to trouble him anymore, but he insisted that he could drive me back to where I was headed– nearly seven miles away.

I accepted, half-reluctantly. I figured, if this guy tries anything weird, I’m pretty sure I can take him. This is what we’ve come to. “Does he want to share what he has, or does he want to take what I have?”

Along the way he tells me he just moved here from Detroit, and that his fiancé had found a job here so they were making a go of it in a new city.

I invited him into my house and we exchanged phone numbers. I plan to call him and pay him back, but It will never be enough.

When I got a ride back to the car, I was there alone, waiting for the tow truck to show up. My auto-insurance company is Geico, and when “Tiara” called me and reassured me that a tow was on the way, she, too, possessed the spirit of kindness. She was comforting, extremely polite, and reassuring.

The tow truck driver gets there. Hooks me up, and off we go. During the ride I explain to him the fortuitous nature of my morning. I tell him about this guy who showed up, helped push me over a mile on an incline, who then paid for the gas can, the gas, and drove me home felt like, for lack of a more appropriate term: a “cherub-faced godsend.”

The driver then tells me that he comes across people in ditches, or locked out of their cars, or dead batteries, or whatever, all the time, and he’ll just help them– no charge. I believed him. He had the look of a guy whose been fucked over, but not enough to give up faith in people, or his faith in himself to do the right thing. It’s like, “if you see someone drowning, sometimes you’ve got to jump in the water.”

When he explained what this day should have taught me, and what he tells everyone he helps out when the situation presents itself, was simply: “pay it forward.”

  • vocqueen

    I have been the recipient of several acts of kindness when I’ve been stranded by the side of the road (and I always “pay it forward”). I’ve always referred to people like that as “angels in human suits,” because they really are!

  • nathkatun7

    I am so glad your day ended on the bright side. There are so many kind-hearted people who, everyday, try to share their humanity. I am absolutely convinced that most people are by nature kind and caring; It’s the ideology of selfishness that has undermined people’s natural instincts.

  • JackDaniel07

    Awesome awesome awesome read brother

  • AJ Slemmer

    Four years ago, I drove past a gas station, thinking I’d make the next one–and my car ran out of gas as soon as I was past the place. I coasted 1/4 mile downhill trying to get it started. As I trudged up that hill, a couple of guys who’d run out of gas (hahaha) going the other way got their truck going, gave me a ride up, gave me a gas can and a ride back down. I poured, but didn’t leave enough to prime the carburetor. Ran the battery down.
    So I’m going back up the hill.
    Different guy stops, gives me a ride up and back, puts his booster battery on, and I get the car going.
    “Cherub” two-fer! I still have the gas can.

  • Julie Driscoll

    My husband works at Navy Pier, and one day I was there and a young woman walked up to me at Starbucks and offered to buy my coffee. I was skeptical, wondering what it was about (a cult, maybe?!?), but she told me that she and others were performing random acts of kindness, and all I had to do was repay it someday, some other way. It was intriguing – I almost refused her offer, but I know now that she was sincere, and wanted nothing other than to share kindness. It’s a humbling thought – and I’m glad you made it out of your predicament whole! Chicago is, as a whole, a hell of a friendly city . . . .

  • mrbrink

    Thanks for all of the great comments everyone. You know who you are.

  • muselet

    I’m as guilty as anyone of getting too bogged down in my own tedious reality to notice what’s going on around me.

    Maybe we need a little nudge, a reminder that we’re all in this together. Maybe it’s just easier to give up faith in others and ourselves.

    People surprise you sometimes. It’s time to start surprising ourselves, as well.

    Thanks for the story and the reminder.


  • Carla Akins

    Great story, always pay it forward. Maybe the only perk to living in a flyover state, this particular act of kindness happens with some frequency.

  • Christine Mitchell

    I totally believe in paying it forward! It’s how we must function as a society. It also helps dampen the hard edged cynicism I’m prone to from reading the news and blogs like yours :)

  • stacib23

    “Pay it forward”. I used those exact words to a kid at work I did a small favor for last week.

    I was with my family going to a summer place my mom owns at Woodhaven Lakes in Sublette, IL. I stopped for gas at the station in Mendota, approximately 15 miles away, and left my backpack outside by the pumps. I didn’t even notice it was missing. By the time we were settling down at the trailer, the camp police was pulling alongside asking if anyone in my car had left a purse anywhere. We all started to look around, and I knew immediately then that it was mine. My cell phone, my Kindle, my credit cards with the exception of the one I paid for the gas, all of my identification – everything was in that backpack and whoever found it took it inside undisturbed and gave it to the station owners. They then called Woodhaven and asked them to ask their campers if anyone had lost a bag and then held it for me until I could get back up there. It was the combined work of several “angels” at work for me on that day, and I’ll never forget it.

  • blackdaug

    I will say this one good thing about living in fly over country. The few times I have ever had a breakdown on the highway, someone always stopped to help within minutes of me just getting out of the car. And I have helped so many people who were broken down, I couldn’t even count them…
    In fact, the tow strap and jumper cables I have always carried, have never been used for my car, but have seen much use jumping or towing others…..
    P.S. Don’t try and start your car anymore with the cam sensor light coming on. Your timing belt may have slipped or be bad, and if it does manage to start, it could really damage your engine.

  • KABoink_after_wingnut_hacker

    Thanks for the uplifting story!
    Many of us tend to get cynical about human nature until we get a wakeup call of kindness.
    And you got the call from a total stranger too.

    • nathkatun7

      I grew up in an era when it was still common practice to help a distressed motorist. In my poor community, we had no money for tow-trucks or insurance to cover towing. People, if they found a person struggling to start a stalled car, just pitched in pushing it.