Self-reliance Is Good; Accepting Help Is Better

So we started out with the spaniel last Sunday morning with the intention of just getting out of the house and breaking up the cabin fever by avoiding I-40, drifting up back roads from Wilmington to Chapel Hill and walking around the Carolina campus for a while. But I hadn't had breakfast and was getting cranky, so we found a McDonald's in Burgaw.

Window service only. Long line. It's a right turn for me into the McDonald's lot. A guy in a battered red GMC Sierra pickup was in the left turn lane facing me. Technically, he was there before me, but since he was in the left-turn lane, he had to yield to me.

The line was long, and there was space for only one vehicle to turn off the road and into the line. I'm thinking, Well, he was here first but he's in a left-turn lane and there's space for traffic behind him to go around if he has to wait for another opening. But if he goes in first, I'll have to wait and traffic will back up behind me. So I turned into the lot. He gets off the road by turning left and stopping parallel to me, off the road but, according to the unwritten rules, he's behind me in line.

So we're sitting there waiting for the line to move. I'm thinking, You know, I'd be a bit annoyed if I was that guy, although I've been in that position many times. Get there first in the left turn lane, but have to yield to the right turn, and somebody who arrives after you gets in front of you. But that's just the way it goes. And I'm thinking, if I was that guy, I'd probably be muttering a few mild profanities right now.

The line moves, and a space opens up in front. On impulse, I roll down the passenger-side window and we motion him to go ahead. He nods and moves in front. I see a few more details about his pickup truck, including the big yellow "Don't Tread On Me" flag sticker high on the tailgate of his GMC.

Line moves slowly, but finally we get to the payment window and I hand the woman six bucks to pay for my coffee and #2 breakfast meal. But she smiles and says, "The gentleman in front of you paid for your meal." Wow, I say. Thank you. He's waiting at the pickup window in front of me for his order. I tap the horn to get his attention. He's talking on his cell phone, an old-style flipper. But he glances in his rear view mirror and I wave and mouth Thank you, and he nods, gets his stuff, and drives away.

A pleasant little reminder that common courtesy isn't dead and maybe humanity isn't as bad as I think.

But there's more.

An hour or so later we're on a nameless back road headed more or less toward Elizabethtown when we hear a strange noise. Then the steering wheel starts pulling weirdly and I realize the passenger side front tire has blown out. Luckily, I'm able to pull into the paved parking lot of a volunteer fire department station. Perfect place to change a flat.

I've changed many flat tires in my day, but I'm officially an old guy now and my  gray hair and gray beard don't project to the public the youthful self-image I still carry in my mind. In the time it took for me to size up the situation (Damn, I think, that tire is ruined), open the rear hatch, and get out the jack and the doughnut spare tire (hate those things), two pickup trucks have pulled into the parking lot offering to help.

The first truck has two young Hispanic guys asking if I need help and offering to change the tire. I thanked them, said I've changed many tires and thanked them again for stopping.

No more than a minute later another pickup truck stops. Two young white guys. Do I need help changing the tire? They're glad to help. Thanks guys, I appreciate it, got it under control.

A few seconds later I've got the jack positioned under the car and am just starting to lift the car when a young African American guy in an SUV rolls up. He doesn't bother to ask if I need help, just hops out of the car and says Let me give you a hand. And before I can say anything he's got the lug wrench and is loosening the nuts.

What the hell, I think, apparently I'm supposed to get some help changing this tire. So, a couple minutes later, the shredded tire is off, the doughnut is on, and the guy is telling a joke about a crazy guy in a mental institution who is smarter than the psychiatrist realizes.

And then he's gone and we're heading back to Wilmington because I'm not going to drive halfway across the state and back on that damn doughnut tire.

So that was our day--a clear reminder that, as annoying as people can be, they're not as bad as you think they are.