Would You Have Stopped: A Story From the Side of the Road July 16, 2018
If you have ever broken down on the side of an interstate you know it is a horrifying mix of emotions. Depending on the circumstance, you might feel fortunate to even find yourself safely stopped. Once that passes, anxiety might set in over the practical details. How much damage is done? Who do you call first? How much it will cost?
Lastly you are likely faced with anger and/or frustration over the inconvenience of being sidelined from your trip.
So imagine you are stranded in such a dangerous, anxious and inconvenient situation and nobody is there to help you. That amplifies the emotions.
Making The Time
We were on our way to visit friends in Boise, Idaho when we saw a red Ford Mustang on the side of the interstate. Ford Mustangs are notoriously reliable vehicles. And its tempting to assume that most owners of Mustangs are well enough to do that stopping to help would simply be an afterthought.
It almost was for us.
We were finally making progress in a day that started and ran late. And we were anxious to arrive in Boise to see our friends. The last thing we wanted to do was to stop on the side of the road for a few hours. This was especially true since our truck was in excellent shape.
But when you “Travel with Purpose” sometimes that purpose interjects itself in your path in the form of a Mustang on the side of the road. You either make the time for it, or you don’t.
We decided to make the time.
As I approached the Mustang it’s owner walked toward me. He was at least my size and, with all of the crazy stories in the news these days, this warranted my attention.
“Man am I glad you stopped,” Mike said introducing himself. “I’ve been sitting here for an hour and not one person has pulled over to help.”
I processed his words quickly and then said what everyone would think.
“Have you called your insurance company? Or at least a town truck?”
Mike shook his head and said he didn’t have a phone.
“Oh, that’s an easy fix,” I said with a smile. Then I made some joke about how if he needed me to crawl under the car I’d have no idea what I was doing. He cracked a smile.
I ran back to our truck and grabbed my cell phone. In handing it to Mike he looked at me rather dejectedly.
“I don’t even know who to call,” he said genuinely confused.
As we got to the details of his journey I learned that he was about 4 hours drive from home. He didn’t know anyone in the area of his breakdown. Calling anyone from home would have been useless anyway. So I asked him about his insurance and whether he had his insurance card on him.
Mike was so befuddled that he couldn’t recall if or where the card would be. So I talked him through figuring out which insurer he used. In ascertaining that information I searched for the 800 number and gave them a call.
One Simple Call
Mike talked through the situation with the insurance company for the next few minutes while I checked out the Mustang. One tire had tread peeling off the inside wall. The other three were about to have the same. It’s fortunate that he pulled over. Many of us would have continued pushing on in our journey. We tend to get so worked up over arriving in a place we often overlook simple details in the name of arrival.
The insurance company arranged for a tow to a nearby town. I asked Mike if he was OK with us leaving or if he wanted us to stick around.
He asked us to stay.
It seems my desire to arrive in Boise grew indirectly proportionate to the time required in waiting for the tow truck. I wanted to be anywhere but on the side of the interstate.
But I tried to put myself in Mike’s shoes (I’m pretty sure I would fit in them!).
While we waited in the cold, windy afternoon for the tow truck we talked about his life. Mike had recently come through tough times. He was divorced already at only twenty four years old. His ex-wife had convinced him to sell his more reliable truck for this Mustang and he really didn’t like the car at all.
Mike was working to put himself through school. He had a passion for the outdoors and wanted to be a park ranger in Idaho.
In all of the work he was doing to better himself, he didn’t have the funds for a cell phone. Imagine that, in 2018, a grown man without a cell phone.
That was when I realized the purpose in our stop.
Life Passes One Mile Per Minute
We take for granted the things we pass on the highway at 60, 70 or even 80+ miles per hour. At 60 miles per hour life passes over one mile per minute. It’s easy to think that anyone on the side of the road could simply call for help. In 2018 who needs to stop for anyone anymore?
These are the kind of thoughts I had as we screeched our truck to a stop and then backed up nearly a quarter mile along the highway.
Yet we were the exact people upon whom Mike was waiting.
In an hour there must have been hundreds of cars that passed this broken down Mustang. Yet it took just one to help Mike get back on the road.
I couldn’t imagine how simple it was. It was just a phone call and a 45 minute wait for the tow truck.
But how easy is that opportunity to overlook at 60 miles per hour?
Mike was headed to Boise for the weekend. His younger brother wanted to go an air show and they had not seen each other in some time. I thought of my younger sisters and of Lindsay’s siblings whom I love as family and again tried to imagine myself in Mike’s shoes.
There’s no way around it. It would suck to be in his shoes.
The inconvenience of being sidelined from meeting his brother gave way to anxiety over the cost of the repair. Both the tow truck driver and I agreed he was within another few miles of a blow out in any or all of the other tires. He was only delaying disaster.
And while the tow was free, the revelation of the tire tread was going to also cost Mike quite a bit. I could sense that all Mike wanted was to join his brother in Boise. That was my hope too.
A Drop In the Bucket
I watched as the tow truck driver loaded up the Mustang on the back of the truck. He was proficient. He didn’t need my help at all. So I turned to Mike and watched him scratch his head in anguish.
We’d been there. Just a week earlier we paid a lot of money to make repairs on our truck we thought was fine. It cost us nearly a week in a town we never thought to visit and nearly one month of our budget. Inconvenience is only a drop in the bucket when you live on so little as Mike did.
When we help people we don’t usually give them cash. We do try to help anyone and everyone in some way. But we prefer to use money to purchase something that would help in some creative way.
But with Mike I could sense the $20 I curled up in my hand would only be a drop in the bucket to purchase new tires. I wished in the moment that I could stroke a check for the entire bill. But I don’t think that is what this stop was about.
Money Won’t Solve The World’s Problems
I think if we did have the financial resources to cut checks like these, we might go about our days differently. We’d likely not stop on the side of the interstate for people. We might not buy a sandwich for a homeless woman sitting outside Wal Mart. And I know we would have stayed in a different RV park, or a hotel, when we were in Las Vegas. We would buy fresh produce without thinking about who harvested it. So much of our life would be different if we had more money.
But there’d never be enough.
Which is why we know that money does not solve the world’s problems. People solve the world’s problems.
Even if its just a phone call, conversation and an hour by the side of the road.
Mike shed a tear when I handed him one of our cards and a $20 bill. He thanked me and I again felt like I had more to offer.
“I know the tires are going to set you back,” I told him in parting ways. “But use that money to enjoy your time with your brother. Buy him a drink or a funnel cake or two and enjoy the air show.”
“I will,” Mike said as he climbed up in the tow truck.
And I’m sure he did.
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