“Not Many People Help Each Other Any More”

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On Valentines Day, I was at the store right around sunset and noticed this young guy standing near his car, with his hood up. I parked and when I walked by I asked him if he needed a jump. He said he wasn’t sure, but thought that maybe his battery terminal was corroded and that he was going to buy a Coke and dump it on it. I told him I didn’t have jumper cables, I was driving the Insight, but would go home and get some. He said he had some, but was going to try the Coke first.

I shopped for maybe 10 minutes and when I came out, he was still standing there. I walked over and he told me it didn’t work. He got out the jumper cables and we hooked them up to our respective vehicles. I was standing there talking to him and he was talking pretty fast, pretty nervous. I told him that I’d had a ton of “experience” with broken cars and that it wasn’t something to be embarrassed about. Cars break. We let it sit for around 10 minutes and I told him to try it. It barely clicked. It sounded like it wasn’t getting any power. I looked at the battery cables and one, the negative, was pretty corroded. Then, looking at the positive, I noticed it the clamp was broken and really loose. Like it would just come off in my hand.

I told the guy that he needed a new clamp. I forgot to say that this whole time that this guy’s girlfriend was standing there. It was Valentines Day and they were planning on going out to dinner. I had a little extra time and said that if he wanted to wait 30 minutes or so, I’d go and get a new clamp, some tools and come back and fix it for him. He said that they lived in an apartment just a few blocks away and would probably walk home. I got his phone number and he left his hood open.

I drove home, got a tool box and came back and took his battery out and drove home again to put it on a charger. I thought I might have an extra battery terminal clamp laying around, but didn’t find one, so went down to the auto parts store and got one. It was only $3.50. I stopped on the way back, when there was still a little sunlight left and put the new clamp on. Then I went home and my charger showed his battery was completely charged. I was mildly surprised, but happy because it showed that his alternator was probably okay, which he had told me an auto mechanic had told him the week earlier that he needed a new one.

I called him and told him I was heading back to his car. He said he would ask a neighbor to drive him over. I said I’d just go by and pick him up. He wanted to know how much the part cost. I told him 3 bucks, but don’t worry about it. He protested, but I told him it was fine. When I picked him up, he brought me out a small bag with some candy in it. He said if I wouldn’t take any money, he’d feel better if he gave me something, so he grabbed this small bag of candy. I told him it that was fine.

When I got back to the car, I put the battery back in, I told him to try it. He tried the key and the starter just clicked, super fast, but didn’t engage. His starter was toast. I tried the old trick of wacking the starter with a hammer a couple times, trying to shake the solenoid free and get it working for a short time. It didn’t work. I got into his car to try it once and hadn’t realized that the car was a manual transmission.

I told him that I didn’t think that I could get it going right then, but if he wanted to move the car we could push start it. He’d never heard of push starting a manual car. I explained the process. I’m not sure he exactly understood what I was trying to do, but was all-in for trying to get the car started. So, we push the car out of his parking space and started to go up a slight upgrade. It was dark by now and I was amazed how rude other drivers were when they came upon us in the parking lot. It was like we were inconveniencing them for, what, 2 seconds.

So, we get the car up a little hill and then I tell him to push as hard as he could down the hill. I helped push and then jumped in and popped the clutch in 2nd and bam, it started. But the car ran like shit. The muffler was gone, I had to keep my foot on the accelerator to keep it running. There was no way that we could switch drivers and keep the car running. So, I drove up the hill and pulled the parking brake and it died. I told him that he was going to have to drive it while I pushed it down the hill.

He was a little worried that he wasn’t going to be able to start it. I told him it would work. I told him that when he got the car started that he needed to keep driving, thus this was good-bye. He turned around said something like he really appreciated all the help. He said that “Not many people help each other any more. Especially a black guy in a grocery store parking lot.” I told him that everyone seemed busy now and was always in a hurry. I had a little extra time and knew how to fix it, so it wasn’t a big deal. He got in, I pushed, the car started, and he drove off, giving a honk and wave.

I felt bad as he drove off. If the car would have started up normal, sounded good and the starter was the only problem, I was going to tell him that if he wanted to come by the next day or two, I’d put a starter in it for him. I figure a starter might cost $60, but it would be $350 to get it installed. It might take me 30 minutes to do it. But, the car was a POS. It needed a lot of work and a starter was just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t want to get involved in that much. But, I understood his situation – No money and no car knowledge.

A few minutes later, the guy called me and thanked me once again and told me he got home okay. That was nice and unexpected. I’m going to keep his number. I think I’ll call him next time I need a second person for a job. He could use a little life mentoring. I could use to here a little of his views of life, so even trade. Battery clamp for candy.

Broken clamp.

Broken clamp.

Candy for trade.

Candy for trade.

We rode nearly 3 hours yesterday.  It never got warm.

We rode nearly 3 hours yesterday. It never got warm.

Our cat, Kukla, napping yesterday.

Our cat, Kukla, napping yesterday.

19 thoughts on ““Not Many People Help Each Other Any More”

  1. John White

    Great example for this young man. It is a shame we do not all help each other more. As a society we always seem to be too busy – or lacking in faith that good actions will have good outcomes. I helped a young lady in a Wal Mart parking lot with her car awhile back – I have had help at inopportune times in the past. Good karma is a powerful thing. Have a great day, Steve.

  2. Skippy

    Not sure if it is me , but recently i have come across too many of the Newer cars that have unaccessible battery terminals ? So many people these days think that using Jump Leads will damage their fancy POS !
    Never leave home without Jump leads , as that is the day they come in handy ?

    Mid 1980s in Sydney , i would spend at least an hour a day driving the taxi to start up flat batteries , always good tip for the few minutes work . Only time i got ripped , was when i came across the owner of an E type jag , in an upmarket area , that started to burn up as i passed . Without asking if he would reimburse , i used the Taxi Fire Extinguisher ! You got it , he wouldn’t stump up and i was out of time and pocket at the end of the shift .

    Like your attitude towards helping out , particularly since you were looking at a POS and the amount of effort needed to solve the problems !

  3. Bottle ride

    That was a great story- I really needed to read something good today and that made me feel better about the way things have been going for me recently.
    Helping people is always a good thing

  4. mike crum

    that is what my dad calls “old scool class”. dont you just wanna pound those people honking while you were pushing the car.. you put them behind their scedule for maybe 20 seconds..those rude people get a whoppin, they’d change their ways..

  5. Mick

    Steve. I had a similar experience with an African American woman and her elderly mother. I was in my suit on the way to a presentation and their car wouldn’t start. They were literally panicked. I said i would jump their car and they were shocked. It started right away and the driver cried. She dug in her purse for some money and I told her that being able to help her out made my day. I drive away feeling fortunate on many fronts.

  6. Devin

    I make a point of always stopping for cyclists with problems. I helped a couple this last week who had a patch kit but no pump- turned out she had never fixed a flat before so now she knows how to do that. The guy’s patch kit had dried out glue, completely worn out sandpaper and just patch backing- no actual patches. Very luckily I had thrown a little box of glueless patches into my saddle bag forever ago and it stuck nicely. While we were working on her tube at least 20 different roadies went wizzing past without a glance- I’ve been on the other end of that one and know how shitty it is to realize you can’t fix your flat and nobody offers help. 90% of the time I ask if someone needs anything they’re good to go, but that 10% has been everything from mis-routed chains to flats and no pump, to flats with absolutely nothing. Maybe those riders have never been stuck without resources to help themselves, but it’s humbling and disheartening when you’re 100% screwed and nobody will give you time of day.

    My favorite tip for a saddle-bag: a good pair of thin nitrile gloves- changing a flat almost guarantees getting nasty crap all over your hands and water (or Heed, or whatever is in your bottles) never takes it off.

    Cheers Steve on helping those people, you’re a mensch.

  7. Tman

    Good Job Steve!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I try to help when I can as well. As for cyclists, we live 25 miles out and my wife picked up a roadie a couple years back with our kiddo in the car, Guy had a tubular flat and no spare. I felt so proud of her and it was a good learning exp. for the kid!

  8. giles

    I think a lot of the problem is people are less mechanically inclined. I’m always shocked at how many people I know that don’t carry anything in their car. No tools,water,snacks,asprin nothing. I have spent hours stuck in traffic. So I’ve learned to carry certain things in case I break down(find someone else broke down) or get stuck on the road. I am also kinda shocked when people cry when you help them.It does’t say much for our society. Also car companies have made I more difficult to help sometimes. Modern cars hide the battery in odd places. I had to pull the back seat out of a Buick one time to get to the battery. I think the older friend of my parents thought I was nuts taking the back seat out. I literally had to show her the battery before she believed me.

  9. Richard Wharton

    Steve you are so incredibly nice. You’ve made me feel better about humanity since 1993. I am so grateful you and others like you are out there. Please come by when you are next in Dallas. We owe you decades of thanks.


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