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The Best Of 2008

OK, Little Girl, Drag It Down Here and Don't Forget the Toolbox
By Jim Whitaker -- Staff Writer [Email This Story]

Chug, chug, sprit, jerk, pop, bish, groooooan. It makes sense there's something wrong when your car makes those senseless sounds.

My wife was driving as we turned a corner in a tree-lined residential neighborhood; her van -- already chugging, spritting and jerking for several blocks -- popped, bished and finally groooooaned to a stop.

So there we were stuck on a westbound street, at a corner, blocking a fire hydrant and the nose of the van into the intersection with a cross street. What boredom these routine days are.

My wife and I were mini-vanning our great-niece and her little brother to their grandmother, my wife's sister. The fire hydrant we were obstructing was only a block or so from "Nana's." So the boy and I hung out in the van while great-aunt and great-niece walked to Nana's to call a tow truck.

About five minutes later, this skinny little girl, about 8 or 9 years old I'd guess, stopped her bike on the sidewalk near the hydrant.


"Hi," I answered.

"Did your van quit?"

You'd better be glad you're a kid asking that.

"Yeah, I'm afraid so."

"You know I can drive your van up the street for you." Her voice was very sincere.

"Well, I'd let you but the van won't run."

"Why won't it run?"

"There's something wrong with the engine."

"We have an engine you can borrow." Her voice was very sincere.

"You do?" I asked, tempted to take up her offer.

"Yeah, my dad works on it all the time." She fidgeted with the handlebars of her bike.

"Well, we have someone coming to help us."

"OK, see you." And off she rode.

The little Samaritan on two wheels made me think. How many vehicles would whiz by me and how many would stop, their drivers offering assistance?

Vehicle 1 passed.

Vehicle 2 passed.

Vehicle 3  . . .  vehicle 12  . . . vehicle 15 slowed to a stop. I put on my best face of genuine anticipation.

"Sir, do you need help?" the female driver asked, leaning out the window of her huge SUV. I put on my best face of genuine appreciation.

"No, thanks. I have someone coming."

"Can we at least push you out of the street?"

"No, thanks." I've seen people get hurt doing that. Besides, I personally thought oncoming cars had plenty of street left to get by the van. Well, at least one MINI Cooper at a time.

I thanked her profusely and off she drove.

Then vehicle 16 coming from the east stopped.

The surprise face.

"Need help?" A male driver this time.

The appreciation face. "No, thanks. I have someone coming."

"Just checking, buddy."

I thanked him profusely and off he drove in his not-quite-as-big SUV.

Now I was encouraged. Two drivers in a row stopped to inquire about my well-being. And one of them even called me "buddy." Cool.

Then my wife returned with Nana and great-niece in vehicle 17. They retrieved the boy. My wife insisted the van be pushed out of the intersection. (My MINI Cooper supposition would've gone nowhere with her so I just didn't bother.) With a tow truck coming -- we were second in line for its services -- they left to meet me at the repair shop later.

So there I was all alone, stranded, blocking a fire hydrant  . . .  but at least with the nose of the van out of the intersection.

How ridiculous, I thought. You know, he who helps himself  . . .  So I turned the key in the ignition. Chug, sprit, bish, but the van was running. So I quickly jerked it from "P" to "D," moved it forward into the intersection where it promptly jerked itself to "DIE."

Vehicle 18, vehicle 3 again  . . .  vehicle 19  . . .  vehicle 20  . . .  vehicle 8 again, this time with a lawn mower sticking out its open trunk  . . .  vehicle 21  . . .  vehicle 3 again with a driver who must have been looking for a specific address -- he should've stopped and asked me for directions  . . . 

"Did your van start?"

The little Samaritan snuck up on me. Whatever happened to cards in bicycle wheel spokes?

Vehicle 22  . . . 

"Yeah, but then it died again."

Vehicle 23  . . . 

"Why did it do that?"

Vehicle 24  . . . 

"Well, we have someone coming to help us. "

Vehicle 25  . . . 


Vehicle 26  . . . 

"Tow truck."

Vehicle 27  . . . 

"Do you want me to push you out of the street?"

Vehicle 984,000  . . . 

"No, thanks. We have someone coming to help us."

Off she rode. And just as I was about to ask if that engine would match up with the van's motor mounts.

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