The Kindness of Strangers

I sat on the sidewalk, legs curled up in my arms, my head resting dejectedly on my knees. We had been at the park since 6:30 am and I was ready to go home. AIDS Walk San Francisco was done. The 1200 members on my team had walked, eaten, and left. We just had to pack the truck with the leftover supplies and we’d be gone too.


She tried to start the rented U-Haul truck. Nothing. Not a click, not a turn, not a strained effort towards ignition. She tried again. I glanced over and noticed the old fashioned knob to the left of the steering wheel, pulled out. “Uhm. Did you leave the lights on?” I inquired. She slapped her head. “Oh, my god. How could I be so stupid?” she announced as she gathered the papers to call the service center. I listened as she argued with the service guy. She never told him the lights were left on for 9 hours. He had her try to start the truck in neutral. That didn’t work. Nothing did. He said they’d be there within half an hour. Or so.


We decided to go ahead and load the truck, manually carrying everything from our spot in the park to the truck that was street parked. It was more work, but hopefully it would save time. As soon as we received a jump we’d be set to go. I hopped out onto the sidewalk. She slid across the seat, not wanting to open her door to oncoming traffic. She slammed the door then slapped her forehead again. “What?” I asked. “I just locked the keys in the car.” “No you didn’t. Please say you didn’t.” She did.


We called the service guy to make sure they sent a tow truck with a Slim Jim. “Lady, you locked the keys in the car, that’s your fault. My guy will jump you, but he’s not going to unlock your doors.” Click. With that, he hung up. Then the complaining began. The incessant, whydoIhavesuchbadluck Midwestern drone that lasted the rest of the afternoon.


We carried the last 15 or so boxes from our spot in the park to the sidewalk in front of the truck. As we were doing so, a man offered to help. Joe. She repeated the story to Joe. He commiserated. He carried boxes. He offered to call his AAA to have them come unlock the door. Not completely seriously, I asked him if he had a coat hanger. “As a matter of fact, I do. Let me get it out of my car.” He came back with a coat hanger and we began the quest to unlock the doors. I’ve done it before, but it was a long time ago. Either locks have improved since then or I’ve lost my touch.


Joe tried. She tried. I gave up. I sat on the sidewalk, away from them, legs curled up in my arms, my head resting dejectedly on my knees. Ants began to crawl up my bare legs. I was too exhausted to swat them away. I watched. A couple of tattooed skateboarding teens whizzed by. Whoosh. A couple with a baby stroller sauntered by. An older man, cigar in hand, with two twenty-somethings. A couple? Brother and sister? I couldn’t tell. The guy, in his cool blue Oakleys, looked down at me and winked. I countered with, “Hey, do you know how to break into a car?” 


He stopped. “I’ve broken into a few cars into my time.”


“Wanna have a go at that one?” and I pointed to the U-Haul. The two men looked at each other, contemplating my challenge. They shrugged. “Sure.”


My colleague immediately began her story. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The two men simply took the coat hanger and went to work. They poked, prodded, jostled. They didn’t have any more luck than any of us had. Until. I saw them whispering, pointing, then reconfiguring the coat hanger. The younger guy pulled on the frame to the rearview mirror with all of his weight, slightly opening the door frame. I concentrated on his worn down flip flops, sliding backwards as the door opened so slightly, perhaps only a millimeter. The older guy, still holding his cigar, gently slid the coat hanger inside the door, down, down, down. He wiggled it very slightly this way. He gave it a gentle nudge. Then with a JERK! he pulled back and the door swung open.


I was amazed. We all offered profuse thanks; they laughed. They wouldn’t accept payment, just said they were glad to help and walked on to the park, ready to enjoy the rest of their day. As they rounded the corner the tow truck showed up to jump the battery. Life does have happy endings.

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