A funny thing happened last Friday on the way home from the airport. I picked up Colleen a little past midnight. She flew in from Chicago so we could drive to a writing conference together. We pulled onto I-85 heading north when the front end of my car started to shake. Within moments it had that thwump, thwump, thwump sound reminiscent of a flat tire. I pulled into the right lane and cut my speed to twenty five miles per hour. The next exit was over a mile away. I hoped to limp my way off the expressway to a safer spot. I hate changing my tire when cars whiz past at 70 miles an hour.
We made it off and thwumped our way to a well-lit gas station. At nearly 1:00 a.m. in an unfamiliar town, lots of lighting seemed to make the most sense. Convinced the front passenger side needed changing, we exited the car, but the tire was fully inflated, as was the driver’s side. Out of quick fix ideas and feeling a bit weirded out by the cat calls coming from the cabs of semis lining the parking lot , we decided to get a room at The Hampton Inn conveniently situated at the bottom of the parking lot. With an hour’s distance to my house, it didn’t make sense to have my husband pick us up, to drive an hour back home, only to have to come back again in a few hours.
Stacey, the night clerk at the hotel, rented us a room, sold us a couple beers from the cooler, and listened to our tale of woe. She sympathized with our plight, and picked up her phone and offered to call her mechanic. I looked at the clock and pointed out the time. She assured me he would come if we needed him. Not really believing her, I nodded my assent and within thirty seconds, Herbert Goode offered to come out and look at my car, free of charge. Of course, his shop didn’t open until 8:00 so he couldn’t really do anything until then, so we agreed to meet in the morning.
As promised, Herbert met us and after driving my car around the parking lot and checking the axles, suggested the tire might be separating from the inside. He didn’t fix tires at his shop, but he knew a guy who did. He called, made us an appointment, and then insisted on leading us there. About three miles down a secondary road, the front end of my car shook so hard, I couldn’t control it. I called Herbert, who drove in front of me, and he yelled that I needed to get off the road immediately. He could see my tire wobbling in his rearview mirror.
We turned into a construction site and I took out my jack and lug wrench, but Herbert insisted on tightening the lug nuts for us. I took a video to bring back to my mechanic who apparently forgot to tighten the lug nuts when he did my brakes the day before. When Herbert finished, I asked him how much I owed him. He wouldn’t accept anything and told me if I did give him money, he would just give it to the Lord. I told him to take the money and give it to his wife, which he promptly agreed to do. Colleen and I hugged him. He literally saved our lives, and as I looked behind Herbert, all of the men on the construction site had stopped working and stared at us, mouths agape. Herbert is black, and I live in the south.
I brushed off their ignorance and hugged him a second longer. I simply don’t understand why hugging someone for helping me out, no matter the color of his skin, needs to be an event. Herbert led us to the main road and made sure I had the correct directions back to the hotel before he left to go work at his shop. As Colleen and I headed back to the hotel, my phone rang indicating a local number. Thinking it Herbert, I picked up. It was Stacey, the hotel clerk, calling to check on us. Her shift had ended and she’d gone home, but she wanted to check on us to make sure we were okay and didn’t need anything else. Colleen and I sat stunned. Who does that? Apparently Stacey does. She also happens to be black.
Colleen and I were amazed at this sense of community and goodwill. Neither one of us have ever experienced such generosity and sense of fellowship before and we wondered if it was a bit of southern comfort, or if we’d just experienced a bit of black culture and hospitality. We wondered if we would have received the same type of help if someone of a different race had been behind the counter, or if this offer of help and compassion came as a result of a sense of community formed when people are oppressed and survive by helping one another.
I’d like to think she and I caught a glimpse of a global community, one in which color, ethnicity, gender, and orientation, do not identify, but instead, characterize. Perhaps they helped because we were kind, respectful, and obviously stressed. I’m upset that race became an issue when I hugged Herbert and the men behind him reacted so strongly. It hadn’t occurred to me that it should be “a thing” until then, and perhaps it wasn’t. Maybe it was just people being kind to people in need. Whatever it was, Herbert and Stacey were our angels that day. I hope if the opportunity presents itself, I use their example and extend goodwill to someone in their time of need.
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