LAKE CITY, S.C. -- Two years ago last Fourth of July weekend, my family and I had a wonderful experience. On the hottest day of the year, on what must be, it turns out, the remotest stretch of I-95 between Boston and Miami, as we traveled on our way to Charleston for a week at the beach our van broke down. It was one of the more uplifting experiences I had been through in a while. Seriously.
Here's how the day went and why I say it was a wonderful experience.
Guy that I am, I usually drive, but at this point in the trip, my wife Sandra was driving. Because of the holiday, I-95 was even more congested than usual, but running at the same speed-limit-exceeding pace that it usually does. We, the five of us, were driving our slightly dated Nissan Quest minivan because that's why you own these large boxes with wheels, to go on family vacations.
Suddenly, the truck directly in front of us, an eighteen wheeler, swerved, apparently around something in the road. When a transfer truck swerves for something in the road, you can know it's something serious. I expected the worst.
Because of the traffic behind us and beside us, even knowing something worth dodging was coming at us, Sandra could do nothing but try to slow up a little bit. Out from under the truck appears something big and black. It was probably the entire carcass of a truck tire, but it was hard to tell. We ran straight over it. It went boom, whap, boom -- then exited behind us. Although adrenalin levels were high, it seemed we were unscathed.
I said something like, "That was close." Then looking in the rear-view mirror, I saw a giant plume of smoke coming out from behind our van.
I said, "Pull over right now!" Then looking just ahead, I saw an exit ramp, and said, "Take this exit!"
When we came to a stop at the top of the ramp I got out quickly, got down on my knees and looked under the engine. Oil was pouring out. As I looked back down the ramp, I could see a line of oil on the road.
Using my cell phone, I called Triple A. I was on hold when a guy in a big new double-cab truck stopped to ask if he could help. I told him what I was up to and he said, "Let me handle this. It's going to be hard to find a place that's open with the holiday."
I said, "Thank you." We did need help. It turns out that not only was there no gas station or shop of any kind on this interstate exit, there was no auto repair shop for 15 or 20 miles in either direction. This stranger found a repair shop in Lake City that was open and would work on the car, then called a friend with a tow truck who would come right away to pick up the car. Since the tow truck could take two passengers, he took my wife and her son and one of my sons on ahead with him.
Along the way we met three friendly and interesting sets of people: our new-found friend who stopped to help us, the tow truck driver who I rode with, and the two mechanics and their family who dropped by the shop while we were waiting briefly for our van to be repaired.
That repair turned out to be replacing the missing oil filter which was ripped off by the retread tire shell. In effect, an oil change is all it took to fix the problem. And, to top it off, they showed us an easy alternate route to our destination on the Isle of Palms that got us off more than 100 miles of busy interstate, a route we have used regularly since then.
And why did our personal Good Samaritan do such a nice thing for us? Here's his explanation. See if you can make sense out of it. Several weeks before his car had broken down -- and no one stopped to help him. He vowed to fix that. So he decided he wouldn't let other people sit on the side of the road unhelped. He kept his vow.
It's a new corollary to the Golden Rule: Do for others what you wish they had done for you.
So, for my part, I am passing this message on: Pay it forward. Stop today to help someone who could use your help. On your detour you just might find that you will show them, and yourself, a better way. The world will be a better place if you do. You might even discover a beautiful place like Lake City.
On this Fourth of July week, Gary D. Gaddy in his rental van ran over another truck tire re-tread on I-95 on the way to Charleston, but nothing broke, so there isn't any story to tell.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday July 10, 2008.
Coyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy