It was Mary Lou’s father’s 89th birthday. She was driving down from Auburn and I was coming up from Compass Lake. We were going to surprise him at Extendicare with a pizza. I think it is pretty cool when you are almost nine decades old, and your favorite food is pizza.
Just as I was leaving the lake, Mary Lou called and informed me she had a flat tire. She was in Seale, Alabama and had just gotten on US 431. There was still an hour or more of daylight and she was near Phenix City, Columbus, Auburn and Eufaula. I told her to call AAA which we had belonged to for 15 years.
I had every confidence that someone would soon be changing her tire. I have had some very good experiences with AAA over the years. When my son-in-law locked his truck in the gate to Compass Lake it was a pretty big deal. The truck was running, locked and the key was in the ignition. To make it worse, it was the 4th of July.
Nevertheless, someone was there within 20 minutes. The door was quickly opened, and the holiday routine was back on track. The gentleman had left his own family on the big holiday to help us out. I will never forget how friendly he was that day.
Later, I gave out of gas on I-75 while headed to Orlando for a meeting. The traffic was horrendous, and the sun had just set. I barely made it off the road. The cars and trucks were flying by at what seemed like 90 miles. No one slowed down. Once again, in 20 minutes a helpful man showed up, this time with a five gallon can of gas.
Tonight was not such a good story for AAA. ML called someone on the phone and gave them the information. They called back with an estimated time of three hours. That is not a typo. Three hours.
According to Google Maps, her car was less than 19 miles away from the second largest city in Georgia, 20 minutes by four lane highway, 17 miles from Phenix City, Alabama, whose population is over 36,000. Auburn and Opelika were only 40 miles away. They have a combined population of approximately 100,000 in their city limits. Eufaula, with a population of 12,000 was almost exactly 30 miles away, four lane all the way.
I bring all these population statistics up because almost 400,000 people live with 45 minutes of where Mary Lou was stranded. The quickest AAA could get anyone there was three hours which was longer than the time it would take me to get there from Florida.
I drove to Dothan, grabbed a pizza, dropped it off to my father-in-law, wished him a happy birthday and headed toward my stranded wife.
In the meantime, ML googled road assistance in Eufaula and called the nice people at Eufaula Tire and Service. Although it was closing time, they offered to send someone out. They said they would be there in 45 minutes.
About that time, a logging truck passed her car and then turned around. The driver wanted to know if she needed any help. Even when he found out she had someone on the way, he offered to take a look at the tire. He had a compressor that located the problem, a hole in the side of the tire. He then proceeded to try to figure out the complicated procedure to change a tire on a Volvo.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a rather sketchy looking man walked by. He later turned around and the Good Samaritan who was on his knees changing the tire alerted Mary Lou that the man was coming back. For a while it appeared the logging truck driver would not be able to change the tire, but he assured my wife that he would not leave her, especially with the oddly acting man in the area.
Eventually, the tire was changed by this stranger. He was not from around the area. He would not give Mary Lou his name. He would not accept any payment.
The next to last thing the AAA spokesman said was “Are you safe?”. The last thing was “Have a good day”.
It turns out it was a good day, though no thanks to the service we pay for year after year. It was a good day because Eufaula Tire and Service sent someone out after hours just as the sun was going down, even though it turns out we did not need them. It was a good day because a stranger stopped, changed a tire, accepted no payment and most importantly, made my wife feel safe.
Hours later, Mary Lou walked through the door in Donalsonville. My irritation at the promised three-hour wait was replaced by the knowledge she was safe, thanks to people we don’t even know. People we will never know.
As you listen to the news tomorrow with all its controversy, dissention, and turmoil, remember that there are some unsung heroes amongst us. One of those unknown heroes drives a logging truck. I don’t know his name but will never forget him.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org