Road Scholar

During this “most wonderful time of the year”, I find that in stores and on the road, people revert to savage, impatient creatures. They cut you off without signaling. They back in to you in crowded aisles and push shopping carts over your feet. People lean over you and reach for something on the shelf without saying “excuse me”. When you say “excuse me” to them, they still make you squeeze past them, or return to that aisle when they're gone. Children run rampant and unsupervised through stores, and when they squeal ”POWER RANGERS!” upon spying a Marvel Icons Spider-man, their parents don't even have the decency to correct them! The horror....the horror...

I trudged through stores on Friday on a quest to finish the last of my holiday shopping for presents for my parents and for my cousin's kids. It was an exhausting process, and I rewarded myself with a Beast Wars 10th Anniversary Rattrap. I had passed up the opportunity to buy one years ago, saving money more important than regressing and indulging in a juvenile purchase. I didn't even know there was an anniversary reissue of the figure until I saw it on the shelf, one of three remaining in an otherwise empty space. I took the electronic music I heard as a sign, even if it was more unsupervised brats mashing the keys of a synthesizer. I headed home, happy that my shopping was finally complete, save for food items which I'll pick up next week, and all I had left to do was actually wrap everything. I came to a stop sign in the parking lot and cheerfully waved a car to my right on. As I started to roll forward, I noticed a car making a left turn in front of me, taking initiative and advantage of my generosity to the other vehicle. I stopped, and as he remained in mid turn glaring at me, I had to wave him on as well. There was a squeal of tires as his focus remained straight ahead, intent on not acknowledging almost hitting me. Yes, people rock this time of year.

This week, Janet posed an interesting situation of human nature and the rules of the road. Here's what she encountered:

”A few months ago, my boyfriend and I were on our way home from Philadelphia. On the way we spotted a man pulled over to the side of the road. Assumably his family was waiting in the car. He was flagging drivers down and my boyfriend pulled over. He told us that his car had broken down and that help was on the way, but that unfortunately he did not have all the money he needed to pay for the tow truck. So he was asking strangers, out of the kindness of their hearts, for anything up to fifteen dollars to contribute to the total cost. He also offered to pay us back if we were willing to give our address to him.”

I find, sometimes sadly, that what I say I should do and what I would actually do are often different things, and that the things I would do go against the values I was raised with. Real life makes us skeptical and suspicious, especially here in New York. In the name of survival and common sense, I fail the whole ”Do unto others you would have them do unto you” rule consistently. I guess I really shouldn't complain when people are rude or inconsiderate during the holiday season, given my responses to these follow-up questions:

1. Would you have stopped in the first place? Why or why not?
This reminds me of something I've been thinking about lately from Day Break(which I’ve learned needs saving itself, unfortunately). Taye Diggs' character's girlfriend tells him a story about how she once made her ex-husband pull over so she could help an injured dog. My friend Rey rescued an injured dog back when we were in college, and while it's the right thing to do, I worry in most cases that I would drive on. Do I fear infection? Is it too messy? Or maybe, do I just assume someone else will stop?

Where motorists are concerned, I wouldn't stop, especially on a busy road or highway. Police would eventually show up, and most people have cell phones, don't they? I should be empathetic. The last time I was stuck on the side of the road it was dark, my flashlight was low on batteries, and my spare was as flat as my regular tire. It was before I had a cell phone, and this was only three years ago. No one stopped to help me, and I had to walk a mile to call my mom on a pay phone. When the police finally did show up, it was because the people in the house I was stuck in front of had reported me as a suspicious character. That experience should make me stop to help people, but other than changing a tire or calling for help if the person didn't have a phone of their own, I'd probably be useless. With my luck, the person I stopped for really would be a suspicious character, and I would end up in trouble. It's a horrible way to think, though.

2. Are there any factors that would contribute to your stopping or not stopping that would ultimately change your answer?
An elderly woman wouldn't be a threat, and I'd feel bad for her. Still, I wonder if my “I'm sure someone else will stop” mindset would kick in. The problem with that mentality is that everyone thinks that way, and no one stops.

3. If you stopped, would you or would you not give him the money he asked for?
No. Couldn't he pay the tow truck driver once they reached their destination? If he had no credit cards and not enough cash, surely he'd have something at home? At the very least the driver might be able to stop at an ATM machine. That story would sound very suspicious to me, and it's a tune I've heard before. I used to play with a trumpet player who was an alcoholic. After his father, another trumpet player and friend of my dad's, passed away, this guy took a turn for the worse and fell off the wagon big time. In and out of jail, living at home in his 40s, he'd often be seen wandering town drunk.

Once while waiting for my mom in the parking lot of a supermarket, the passenger door opened and he jumped in. He spun a fantastic tale of his mom locking him out and him needing to go stay at his girlfriend's, but not having train fare. I offered to give him a ride as soon as my mom was done shopping, knowing full well the money would go to alcohol, but he was insistent, and ultimately I had to give him twenty bucks just because he was starting to scare me and I wanted to get rid of him. Months later during a sober period, he showed up on our doorstep to pay me back, his mother crossly waiting in a car, no doubt driving him around and making him return what people had given him. He would go on to borrow money from my dad on two other occasions, and try to borrow money from me a few times, once while I was waiting in a hospital parking lot at night after a visit to the emergency room. People like that, and a high school bully that waited for my loose change at the end of the lunch line every day, are the reason I wouldn't stop in the first place.

4. If you gave him the money, would you supply your address?
Hell no. It's bad enough I'm being scammed on the road; I don't want to invite trouble into my home. And if the situation were on the level, if it was an honest person in trouble and I was being genuinely charitable, then I wouldn't want to be paid back. Let them pay it forward.

5. Does time of year or time of day affect your answer?
If it's raining or snowing badly, chances are I'm struggling to get home myself. I might have to stop if someone, especially elderly people, are in trouble. What I should do at the very least, now that I do have a cell phone, is call for help for them. Again, I'd probably make the (potentially bad) assumption that they had a means of calling for help themselves, or that a trooper would be along soon enough. One morning while on my way to work, my car stalled at an intersection. People started beeping and driving around, and suddenly there were flashing lights in my rearview mirror. I don't know if the cop happened to be going that way, or if someone called it in. Maybe during commuter hours they patrol more frequently. The night I had that flat tire, the police never noticed me until someone reported me. And as for night, there's no way I would ever stop; it just seems dangerous. I know that's really harsh, but I have to answer honestly. If nothing else, my answers may make me reexamine my values, and reconsider the next time someone on the road needs help.



Blogger b13 said...

Stop if she's hot.
Don't if she's not.

:) joking...

Tough situation in this day and age. I always had the fear, even if it was an older woman, that someone else might be waiting in the wings... or worse, she may have a gun.

I hear too many stories in the news of people getting taken at gunpoint to an atm to empty out an account.

I'de make a call to the po-po and let them know someone needed help, but I doubt I'm stopping.

12/16/2006 8:11 PM  
Blogger cube said...

It's a sign of the times. There are so many no good grifters out there that you just can't take the chance. I'd call the police & let them handle the emergency.

12/16/2006 11:29 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

I have stopped several times for people on the side of the road, but only if Dave is with me. One time we drove past a guy trying to flag someone down on the side of the road, and I felt so bad I made Dave turn the car around a couple miles down the road and go back. We pulled up behind the guy, even though he was no longer waving. He said they were trying to get someone with a cell phone to borrow because their car broke down, but his buddy eventually ran across the (very busy) road and walked a mile to use a pay phone. He thanked us and said no one else stopped.

Maybe it's because I don't live in a big city like NY, but I'm never scared in these situations. I know it'd be pretty stupid for a girl to do that on her own, though.

12/17/2006 9:58 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

Nice, detailed response to this question. I think the age of cell phones has not only changed the magnitude of those who stop, but also of those who are stuck, period.

12/17/2006 7:18 PM  

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