The Tire Iron and the Tamale
Justin Horner, a graphic designer from Portland, Oregon, tells this story about human goodness:
‟During this past year I've had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people's cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. [ ]
Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn't bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend's roadside service would show. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn't lend them out ‟for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like ‟this country is going to hell in a handbasket.”
But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.
One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend's big Jeep. I put big signs in the windows that said ‟NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.
He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business. I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn't careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn. No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron.
The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man's hand, but he wouldn't take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I'd send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks.
After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I'd had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.
This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road. But we weren't done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran back to the van. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: ‟Today you, tomorrow me.” Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I've ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn't handle it.
In the several months since then I've changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won't accept money. But every time I'm able to help, I feel as if I'm putting something in the bank.
Summarized from a message posted on reddit.com and from an editorial published in the New York Time Magazine, March 4, 2011.
* Tamale : mexican dish, a sort of burrito stuffed with meat and vegeables