This weekend my son Jared and I were out running errands. With my travel schedule lately we don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time together talking, so when I need to catch up on things that involve driving around I make a point to invite him along so we can chat and listen to music, which he enjoys. Yes, he likes my music, and no, there’s nothing else outwardly wrong with him.
We live just off the 101 freeway in San Jose, CA. The off-ramp leading to our street is very short with a steep, curved run-up to a four-way stop sign. It’s very common for people to take the off-ramp too fast, and some teenagers were killed several months ago after they rolled their car carrying too much speed.
On this day Jared and I got off this ramp and I immediately had to do a panic-stop because there was a car stalled not all the way up the hill to the stop sign. There was not enough room for us or anyone else to get around this stalled car, and it became quickly apparent to me that the female driver was very panicked that we were going to rear-end them coming off the freeway. It was a very legitimate concern. Further, each car that got off subsquent to me dramatically increased the likelihood that we’d all stack up to the point that someone would smash us all into one another.
I put on my parking brake and four-ways and jumped out to see what was going on. There were four passengers in the stalled car, two of which came out to meet me. The two that stayed in the car were elderly women, one behind the wheel and one in the back seat. An elderly man who had impossibly dirty western shirt and blue jeans and duct tape covering his fingers met me at the rear bumper. Another man gingerly walked over from the other side of the car, walking gingerly as if he had bad knees or feet.
The three of us pushed. And pushed. The others were clearly giving all they could to the cause, and we just weren’t getting it done. I started to panic a bit thinking about Jared sitting strapped in the back seat of my car but being so vulnerable in the middle of the slightly-blind, fast off-ramp.
After about 15 seconds or so (but what felt like much more than that) we were able to get the car inching up the incline to the intersection. We rolled it about 20 feet through the stop sign and yelled at the driver to steer off to the right which was slightly down the hill into a wide shoulder. Right as we were cresting that small incline, a tow truck rolled up behind us. There had not been any more cars exit behind me other than the tow truck.
The two men had clearly given everything they could in helping me get that car moving, and both were obviously grateful for the help. I felt badly that they needed to help, but I was pretty convinced that I would not have been able to move the car alone.
I ran back to the car, got in, and started through the stop sign up the hill.
Jared asked me, “Daddy, what was that all about?”.
It hadn’t occurred to me that he wasn’t tracking with the severity of the problem.
“Those older folks were stranded in that car and were scared that someone was going to hit them, which we almost did”, I told him.
“Why didn’t those men push the car out of the way before we got there?”
“Because they weren’t strong enough to do it by themselves. The car is too heavy.”
“Oh, so you helped them, because the car was too heavy for them but all three of you could do it together?”
He thought about it for a short moment and then got a big smile his face.
When we got to the driveway, my wife happened to be there.
“Mommy, you’ll never guess what exciting thing just happened!” Jared proceed to play back the whole story for her, with emphasis on how good it felt for him to have been there to help.
It was the highlight of the weekend for him, and I’m sure he’ll remember it the next time he sees someone stranded on the side of the road. He never did realize that I didn’t really have a choice but to help, but that’s certainly not the point.