Yesterday afternoon, when riding my bicycle home from work in what felt like 3-degree weather, the sidewalk which I use to cross Chain Bridge back into Washington DC was blocked by a van. Frustrated initially, I let out a sigh and a “come on, man” and barely had enough room to get around the vehicle, while not diverting into oncoming traffic, and continue on the path.
As I got back on the sidewalk, I heard a voice.
“Excuse me! Can you please help me?”
I stopped my bike, looked back, and saw a woman, probably in her mid-40s, standing next to the front ride side of the van. I looked down and saw that the plastic protective cover that lines a vehicle’s wheel well was sticking out about two feet from the car.
I immediately dismounted from my bike, took off my helmet and gloves, and walked over to her.
“Thank you for stopping. I don’t know how this happened, but whenever I drive it makes a terrible noise and I don’t know if it’s safe to drive. I just don’t know what to do.”
Luckily for this woman, I knew plenty about cars.
“Ma’am, I’m happy to help. I do all the maintenance on my and my wife’s car, so you’re in good hands,” I told her. “The first thing I’ll tell you is that this is the plastic piece that lines your wheel well to protect your engine compartment, shocks, and other things from any road debris,” I added as I pointed to her now-exposed windshield washer fluid tank.
“Second, this is mostly cosmetic and not necessary to drive, so you can feel safe driving the car, once we get it dislodged.
“Third, when you get the opportunity, take it to a shop and get this replaced. Now let’s see if we can get this thing out.”
I looked in my backpack for my tools, but I didn’t have a knife thick enough to cut off the plastic piece. The woman had a seat belt cutter, but the plastic was too strong. After a minute or two of my reaching into the wheel well to find where it was connected, I found the last remaining piece that was attached to the strut. It wasn’t connected by much, so I gave it a shot.
One quick pull and the entire plastic wheel well cover dislodged and came out.
“Oh my god! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she yelled.
“You’re very welcome,” I said. “Keep this in your vehicle until you get it repaired so a repair shop can know the exact model they need to order as a replacement. And when you go to the shop, don’t let them try to upsell you on anything else. The only thing you need is this wheel cover. Nothing more.”
“Thank you! I can’t believe how much help you’ve been. You’re so nice to stop and help me, even though I’m sure you’re just trying to get home.”
“Yes, I am on my way home, but I’m never too busy to stop and help someone,” I said, still kneeling as I was putting my gear back in my backpack. When I stood up, the woman gave me a hug.
“Well, I’m a pastor, and I’m going to pray for you.”
“Well, I’m an atheist, but I’ll still accept your prayer,” I said with a smile. “The only thing I ask is that you pay it forward.”
“I will! Thank you!” she yelled as she got back in her car and drove away.
In that moment, I realized that this was the type of thing that makes America great. It’s not the size of an inauguration crowd, the size of your bank account, your golf score, or even the size of your hands. It’s about helping your neighbors when they need and ask for it, regardless of of skin color, gender, age, creed, or religion. I would have helped her if she was black, white, green, blue, or orange. She needed help, and I was able to assist.
In 2018, remember that this is the type of thing that makes America great. In trying times, say hi to one another, laugh, joke, and help each other out. In 2018, remember what truly makes America great, and do what you can to keep that spirit alive.