Thoughts & Views: The kindness of strangers

flattire_webWhy is there a photo of the Geico gecko accompanying this column? Because he is my alter ego. At least when it comes to automotive emergencies. You know the commercial where he falls to his knees and wails, “Someone help me! I have a flat t-i-i-i-i-r-e!”?

That is a nice impression of yours truly.

I believe my terror of flats dates to my first experience with one, many years ago at 4 a.m. on the Massachusetts Turnpike. A friend and I were headed to Boston for the weekend (which turned out to be the crummiest weekend of my life) when flump, flump, flump, the right rear tire went flat.

Since I didn’t then, nor do I now, have the least clue how to change a tire, I did the only thing I could: Stand on the shoulder and try to flag down help. (This was before cell phones.)

Before too long, a car pulled over and a very large man exited the vehicle.

He got within about 20 yards when I was nearly overcome by the odor of alcohol. “Never mind!” I said. “We’re okay!” And I scurried over to my driver’s door. Which my frightened friend had locked. And which she refused to unlock.

Luckily, our inebriated Good Samaritan turned out not to be a serial killer but a rather charming and very helpful young man, who, despite alcohol impairment, changed the tire in no time flat (sorry) and sent us on our way. I can only hope he got home safely.

(As for the rest of the crummy Boston weekend, perhaps someday I shall write about all that happened. When I am certain the statute of limitations has expired.)

Memories of that Mass Pike experience came rolling back last week when I was driving through Branch Brook Park in Newark and suddenly, flump, flump flump . . . . This time it was the right front tire.

I pulled over, cell-phoneless, and pondered my options. Which were none.

The only people in sight were two women standing near the lake. I toddled over to ask if they knew of a nearby service station.

“You can’t drive on that,” said one, pointing to the pancake-flat tire. “Do you have a spare? I can change it.”

“You CAN?” her friend and I said in unison.

“Of course,” said this little lady — who stood about 4-foot- 11 and weighed about as much as a flamingo.

Within minutes, she had hoisted spare, wrench and jack from the trunk and was busy doing whatever it was that needed doing.

At that point, a family — husband, wife, child in a stroller — came by, and the man said to my helper, “You shouldn’t be doing that. I’ll do it.” She objected. He insisted. And soon this gentleman was on his knees, working away in the mid-day sun.

The task was soon done. Neither of my helpers would accept a gratuity.

They were more concerned that I would not be driving on any highways and would replace the donut spare with a full-size tire as soon as possible.

All I could do was express my eternal thanks.

And I never even got my rescuers’ names.

Being Newarkers, I doubt they’ll ever see this Observer column, but I’d like to thank them again. Profoundly. Not just for fixing my tire, but for brightening my day, saving me from an emotional as well as vehicular breakdown and reminding me that there truly are angels among us.

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