It was crappy, cold, rainy weather.
Bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic on Blockhouse Bay Road, my thoroughfare going home.
All I could think about was taking some Panadol, and crashing out with a heating pad on my aching neck.
So much bloody traffic.
Then I saw him.
A really old man, broken down on the other side of the four-lane road.
I could see that his front left tire was flat; that one of those emergency Jap tires was up on the sidewalk.
And the really old man was trying to remove his flat “tyre”, as they say in New Zealand.
Judging by his flustered face and exhaustion, I figured he must have been hard at it for some time.
I thought to myself, “surely somebody is going to stop and help that old man.”
The traffic light changed, and the long line of car slowly moved off.
As the really old man struggled on.
And I thought <bad word>, I’ve got to help him.
‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.‘
Somehow I did a u-turn and found a place to park. There was NO traffic on that side of the road because, duh, no one was going into work, everyone was going home.
To Panadol and heating pads and wine.
I thought a bad word and then prayed:
“Lord, just please don’t let me ruin my suit or the Missus will kill me”.
Walk On By
I asked a teenaged boy walking by why he didn’t help the old man. He looked at me like I was a fool.
When I walked up to the really old man, he was spent — puffing for short breaths, his face pasty white and flushed at the same time.
He was bent over, trying with all his might to loosen a lug nut, pushing down on one side of a star wrench with his foot, while yanking up on the other side with this hand.
“Looks like you need a little help, eh mate?” I asked all friendly like, as he vacantly looked up at me.
I noticed immediately that, even though he was trying to remove his flat tire, there was no jack.
I got him to quit battling with the tire and tried to talk to him.
He was pretty much at the end of his rope, blathering on about the jack and someone across the street.
I couldn’t understand him, which made him even more frustrated.
No Bloody Jack
“Just back from Oz. Kids there. Eighty-three-years-old. Thought I had a bloody jack…”
I was actually thrilled that the really old man didn’t have a jack. My suit, and my back, were safe!
I decided I was going to call the AA (Automobile Association) and say I was driving his old car so they would change the tire. (I could go to Confession later.)
Thankfully, the really old man was an AA member and, after a fumble or two, he gave me his card, a bit warily.
I rang the AA and then listened to their annoyingly endless rush-hour message, worrying that my battery would go dead, that I was being charged “minutes” for this call, and that if my phone did go dead, how would I summon an ambulance if the old guy cratered?
After an eternity, the AA lady finally came on the line, and I got the really old man to sit in his car, quietly.
I quickly launched into my spiel BEFORE the lady started working through her standard script.
I was with an 83-year-old man who had been trying to change his own tire, and I was really worried that he might collapse. He had no jack, and his car was sticking out into the road, dangerously impeding traffic, (which was sort of true, and I could go to Confession later).
I stressed that I was really worried about this old man’s condition, that there was no way he could wait the normal 1-2 hours for rush hour help. “You need to escalate this because I am REALLY worried that this old guy is going to collapse, and his car is out in the road.”
Then I ended the call, which I knew was being recorded. And the operator and I both knew that if they screwed around and this old guy croaked, the media would kill them with the recording.
I had a fleeting hope that I might be able to get home in time to watch the TV news to see how a story I’d been PR’ing would be covered, but obviously that was not going to happen.
Ah well, no point in worrying about what you cannot control.
To keep us both busy, I chatted away with the old guy, who insisted on standing up, and propping himself against a telephone pole.
I learned long ago that the best way to engage on older person who was a little dotty was to ask about their lapel pins.
I leaned down but couldn’t read what the pins stuck in his old black, faux-leather jacket said. What I could see was his tired old, gray eyes, and I could smell booze on his breath.
His lapel pins weren’t from the Rotary or Lions Club.
Seems he’d been in the fire brigade once for 12 months. And the other? The 83-year-old man said he’d been secretary of a rugby club for seven years back when his boys played rugby.
He told me about how he met his wife in Tuakow, back when he was in the hotel business and had a few bob. Neither of them had wanted to get married or have kids. But there you go.
About then, the AA truck showed up – within 10 minutes of my call on a rainy, rush hour day. Sometimes bending the truth is a good thing (then Confession).
The AA man was not happy, but I did not care.
And by then the really old man was pretty chirpy. He wanted my card or something so he could thank me.
No need, just take of yourself. You sure you’ll be right?
Yep, mate, no worries.
So I left.
As I rerouted to get home, I couldn’t get that really old Aussie off my mind.
Or the fact that legendary Kiwi hospitality was nowhere to be found on this crappy, rainy day.
I thought about how many hundred cars had passed that really old man, who was so obviously in distress; how many people had seen him and decided they were just too busy or too tired or too something; that somebody else would stop and help.
But then I smiled.
Because I realized that if my son had driven by that Old Aussie battler, I know he would have stopped to help.
That’s how he was raised. That’s how he lives his life.
But then, as I drove home, I started to worry whether I should have followed the really old man home.
Because that’s how I was raised in Norman, Oklahoma.