Before the housing bubble implosion, I worked with a real estate appraiser as an apprentice. My boss and I drove in her new hybrid car to Las Vegas for an appraisers convention.
I wouldn’t describe the drive as scenic. Far from it. The one highlight I remember appeared in a yard just on the outskirts of a tiny town that boasted life-sized rusty metal sculptures of animals, a giraffe being the most memorable.
Vegas was meh. I’m not a big fan.
Here’s where the story gets interesting.
Pretty much this was the view. By Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA [CC-BY-SA-2.0) via Wikimedia Commons
On the way home from Vegas, about forty-five miles either way to a town, in the middle of desert and sagebrush, my boss looked at her gas gauge, gasped and said, “We forgot to get gas before leaving Vegas!” She all but slammed on the brakes mid road.
I leaned over to look at the gauge, thinking she was overreacting and saw the needle pointed solidly at the “Empty” side.
“Oh, crap,” I replied. Or something along those lines.
Nowadays, you’d just whip out your smart phone, find the nearest gas station and turn around or head forward. Or your car tells you how many miles you have left before you run out of gas.
All we had eight years ago was a map book, a cell phone and no cell coverage. We weren’t really sure where on the map we were. We’d also, apparently brought along some overconfidence it had just flown out the window.
My boss wanted to turn around and go back. I voted we keep moving forward. Either way we were surely going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, in the heat. And when we ran out of gas we’d be on a two lane road with almost no shoulder.
A few miles ahead we pulled into a sad excuse for a rest area. “Better to stop here, than be stuck on the side of the road,” my boss explained. There was one other car parked there. “I’m going to go have a chat with the person in that car,” she said as she climbed out.
My boss never shied away from a situation, but I thought she might be pushing her luck. She talked for about five minutes. When she got back in the car here’s the story she told me.
The person in the car was a younger woman. She was at the rest area because it was a half-way point between where her ex-husband dropped off her son at her Dad’s place and her home near Vegas. Her Dad drove her son to the rest area and that’s where mom and child reunited.
The young woman said her Dad owned a tow-truck but he’d probably be just in his regular car and that he could go get gas and bring it back to us after he dropped her son off.
That’s doable. We’d survive. Yay!
Still it’d be a long time waiting in the car in the desert. I got out, wandered around. Sitting in the partial shade on a rickety over-painted picnic table, the wind sucking the moisture out of my skin, I wished for Star Trek transporter technology and wondered what my kids were doing.
We sat waiting another half-hour or so when in pulls a tow-truck.
Not the actual tow truck, just a photo from Wikimedia Commons.
The truck pulled up next to the other car and the young woman hops out, gets a huge hug from a cute little blond boy and then hefts him on her hip as she chats with the guy behind the steering wheel. She points over at us, talks a bit more and then puts her son in her car. As the tow-truck pulls past us she walks over and says, “That’s my Dad. He decided to drive the tow-truck today. Lucky, huh? He’s just going to turn around and back in, then you can just drive up to the ramp, he’ll winch the car on, lock ‘er down and he’ll give you a ride to the gas station.”
Felt like more than luck. Felt like hitting the jackpot.
Apparently, we’d stopped about sixty miles from the nearest gas station. Glad my boss had pulled over. Turned out she wasn’t nuts, just inspired.
And the tow-truck driver? Nice guy, pleasant to chat with. He hadn’t had a lot of business lately and thought maybe if he drove the truck, even though it cost more in gas to drive it without a call to respond to, he might get lucky and run into someone who needed a tow or get a call while on the road. “Every little bit helps,” he said.
And yet, as he dropped us off right in front of a gas pump, he refused to accept the money my boss offered him. “I was in the area and I’m just glad I could help you ladies out today.” And off he drove, into the sunset, every bit a knight in shining armor. It wasn’t really sunset, but that’s how I chose to remember it anyway.
A person of character and class? Absolutely.
People like that restore my faith in the human race. It happens more often than we hear about.
I’d like to hear about it more.
What do they call that? Random Acts of Kindness? Tender Mercies? Karma? Grace? Charity? Selflessness?
Whatever name you give it the effect remains the same. Troubles alleviated, hearts lifted, humanity redeemed a little more.
I have a friend who tweets #cultureofcharacter followed by a description of kind acts and observations. I’d love for that to go viral. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t it be something to log on and see a massive list at the end of every day of things people saw or did or heard about that showed class and character in the actions and words of the people around them?
Small moves, tiny acts, they make all the difference in a world run amok.
It’s certainly works that way in my world.
How about yours?
I’ll be watching for your tweets.
This is where the phrase “culture of character” originated.
#cultureofcharacter: an idea from the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.