A Cold Dark Night

Thursday night lay cold and dark.  I rolled in the fast lane, partly because I’m always late and always pushing the speed limit and partly because it gives me a chance to slip out of harm’s way should a deer or something else dart into my path.  My oldest son sprawled in the reclined passenger seat, a tangle of leather clad arms and denim legs with a couple of graduated steel hoops climbing one ear. He was probably crushing the bread or at least denting the four pack of orange juice I bought at Costco earlier, the whole back was stuffed with a month’s worth of groceries, but I had NPR on the radio and if I woke him up, I might have to listen to pop music the rest of the way home and that was torture that I was willing to sacrifice a few loaves of bread to avoid.

Past Weott, I’m nearing home at last. Off to the side and a little ahead, a man–I see him long enough to know that but not long enough to even tell the length of his hair or the color of the car he stands beside—waves a red box that resolves itself into an empty gas can as I drive past.  For a moment, I think about stopping, turning around, helping but I’ve had a bad experience with a hitchhiker and I’m not wild about repeating the experience even though with my son there, we are two black belts and probably capable of dealing with most situations together.

Instead I don’t pause, I just click my Bluetooth and call 911. “There’s a man off the roadside. Looks like he needs gas. Can you send a CHP?”  Conscience assuaged, I plunge past Myers Flat and within a few minutes take the off ramp that heads up into the hills I call home.

Before I had even made the first turn, my husband called. He goes to Eureka every day to work and was headed back apparently about the same time I was. “Sorry,”  he said, “A man needed gas beside the road just before Myers Flat.  I stopped and I’m giving him a ride to Miranda to get some.” He paused and by way of explanation added, “He’s got wife and two little kids in the car.”  I smirked in the dark to myself because I knew he’d have done it for anyone.  “I’ll be home late.”

He must have been right behind me as I passed the guy. Might as well stay a few extra minutes at my folks when I picked up my littlest on the way home.  I knew my husband. He’d drive the guy there and then drive him back to his car.  He was going to be quite a bit late.

When he got home, he told me that he’d bought the guy $20 worth of gas and then added $80 cash because the guy had asked if he’d consider buying the kids some food.  The guy said he didn’t have any money.  He had headed out of Ukiah that day to pick up his kid’s birth certificate in Eureka so they could get some government assistance. The guy said that the CHP had already been there long before I’d called.  The officer had pushed them out of the road where they had been partially blocking a lane.  The guy said he asked for gasoline but the officer had told him they didn’t carry any.  According to the guy, the officer had driven off saying, “Good luck and I hope you brought plenty of blankets.”

My husband said that he hadn’t minded helping. Before he left them with the gas and money, the couple had “God blessed” him and thanked him several times but what touched him the most was the little blond curly headed moppus leaning out the window and excitedly saying, “Thank you, thank you.”

When I called the CHP, yesterday morning, the very nice Public Information Officer explained that CHP don’t carry gas.  If someone’s on empty, they offer to call a towing company who will bring fuel but, of course, that costs an extra fee. Otherwise, the out of gas folk need to make other arrangements to get help, call someone or….do something. It makes sense, of course, the government can’t solve everyone’s problems. If they did, folk would probably start depending on them and not figuring out ways to solve their own problems.

This guy didn’t have the government to lean on so he waved his gas can.  He asked for help and, for once, someone came. Now, mind you, my very precise husband with his neatly clipped beard and spotless clothing looks more like the engineer he is than an angel neither he nor I believe in but he didn’t need wings to respond to that family’s situation–he just needed to be there and be willing.

My husband says he doesn’t want me to stop and pick up strangers but knowing that he or someone like him isn’t always right behind me ready to help, and now knowing that the government won’t be there to make sure folk can get a little assistance when the unexpected happens, means I’m probably going to have to stop no matter how dangerous, whether I have my son or not.  Sometimes you have to help even when it’s a cold dark night–in fact that is when you especially have to help. Everybody ends up in a pinch once or twice in their life. It has happened to me before. Some folks seem to make a practice of it, of course, always depending on others to get them out of trouble.  But that’s not what really matters.  What really matters is that two year olds get mighty cold when they don’t have any food or blankets.  And angels who stop and get out of their car can help, while those of us who drive by, can’t.

Some people think we shouldn’t have government assistance to provide a little help when folk end up in an unexpected pinch. Probably its good to let folk fail if they aren’t responsible. Darwinism would seem to demand we let them them sink or swim on their own.

But should I ever run out of gas on the road, I hope someone stops. And should I ever need a little government assistance, I hope that program is still available.

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