Grateful for the kindness of strangers

Sep. 07, 2013 @ 11:11 AM

Torrential rain had stopped, and I was lugging bags, shelves and so forth from my Honda, up a flight of stairs into my son’s new apartment.

Coincidentally, the young woman in the apartment next door was moving out. She looked about the same age as my 24-year-old son, and a couple I took to be her parents were schlepping plastic tubs and boxes down to a rental van.

It was beginning to drizzle. The father paused as we passed, shook his head and said “I wish it would start raining again so we could take a break.”

The encounter served to remind me of one of this past weekend’s affirmations – parenting never stops.  My son is starting his second year of graduate school, and there was never any doubt my wife, Pat – who had headed out to Kentucky with him a week earlier and did far more work – and I would help with the move.

There was, it turned out, a second, unexpected affirmation to the trip:

No matter how many grumpy or obnoxious people we may come in contact with (or be….), a lot of truly wonderful people are out there.

We were reminded of that after the tire-tread encounter.

Cruising south on Interstate 75 in eastern Tennessee, we were bearing down on a good-sized chunk of tire tread, apparently shed by a tractor-trailer. We were in the far-left lane, with heavy traffic to the right. I tried, successfully, to avoid hitting the tread with a wheel, but we drove over it with a loud bumping noise and a bit of a jolt.

The ensuing conversation may be familiar.

 “What’s that noise?” Pat asked.

“Must be the wind,” I replied.

We repeated that exchange a half-dozen times in the next 30 miles or so, until we pulled off at a fast-food restaurant on the outskirts of Knoxville, Tenn.

I looked around the outside of the car. Nothing was apparent.

Pat looked underneath and gasped. A large – well, we had no idea what, exactly – piece of vehicle hanging, grazing the pavement.

The very nice people in the Chick-fil-A told us a Honda dealership was a few miles away. We thought about driving, went about 20 yards and thought better.

We called Triple-A. During the ensuing Keystone-Kops conversation (trying to pin down where we were, I made three more trips into the restaurant), a fellow in a van parked next to us sensed we had no clue about things mechanical.

He offered to look.

Moments later, after he crawled under the front of our car, he assured us it was only a plastic shield, no critical part, and he had temporarily reattached it. We didn’t need a tow.

We drove to the dealership. Coby, the service agent who greeted us, couldn’t have been more helpful. Within half an hour, they had racked up our car, removed the damaged shield, assured us we could continue safely and have it replaced in Durham, and had us back on the road.

In the meantime, we enjoyed complimentary coffee and soft drinks in the clean, comfortable service lounge, with free Wi-Fi, and heard from Coby about every 10 minutes how things were progressing.

The charge? Not a dime.

Rusty Wallace Honda is a dealership we never visited before and probably never will again, and they knew that. But they treated us like premier long-time customers.

The folks there – like the clerks in the Chick-fil-A and especially the fellow who crawled under our car – couldn’t have been better models of an unstinting kindness to strangers I hope I can remember to follow.

Bob Ashley is editor of The Herald-Sun. You can reach him at 919-419-6678 or