Sunday, May 17, 2009

Car Karma?

Earlier this week I had a routine physical at my doctor's office. I drove from work, parked my car in the lot, and spent an hour in the medical center. After my appointment I got back in my car, turned the key in the ignition, and... nothing.

I tried again. A faint buzzing sound, but no engine running. I fiddled with the ignition, the gears, and all important-looking buttons, to no avail. My car was good and dead.

I popped the hood, took a cursory look around and called AAA. They promised to send someone within the hour, so I hung up and poked around under the hood some more, not doing much other than enjoying the sunshine and lamenting my dead car.

All the while, people came and went from the medical center. Mothers with their school age children, elderly couples, college students -- they all traipsed about the parking lot on their way in and out of the doctors' offices, without more than a sideways glance at me. There I was, alone with the hood of my car propped up, and those people never bothered to give me a second glance or ask if I was alright. Finally, after about a half an hour, a woman my own age saw me from the far end of the parking lot, drove over to my car, and asked if I was alright. I explained that the car had died and I had called AAA, but that I really appreciated her stopping to check on me. We chatted for a moment, she wished me luck, and then she was off.

Right after the woman's kindness, a man had the gall to drive up in his SUV and park in the space I had been trying to save for the AAA truck. He ignored the space on the other side of the one I was unsuccessfully saving, and barged right in, hopping out of his car without a single word to me. Later, when the tow truck appeared (and awkwardly maneuved around the parking lot), Mister SUV gave me a pompous look and hopped into the gas-guzzler with two rosaries hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Samaritans aside, AAA tried to jump my battery and, when that didn't work, readied my car for towing to my mechanic's shop. I did have a bout of good luck when a woman I know popped out of the medical center and offered me a ride home. I gratefully acceptable and thanked her profusely.

I hear stories about how you can never be too careful these days; you don't pick up hitchhikers and you don't stop for strangers. But at 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon in a wide-open medical center parking lot, was it too much to ask that someone stop and see if I was okay? Did I maybe need to borrow a cellphone or could someone jump my car for me? Did the women with elementary schoolers have to explain to her children why my hood was open and she did nothing? Did the man with the rosaries go to mass the next day with a clear conscience? Did the father of a newly-licensed teenage girl tell her never to assist broken-down motorists? I am truly surprised that people were so callous.

I am grateful to the woman who stopped to check on me, the kind AAA folks, and the woman who eventually gave me a ride home, but I'm still puzzled that no one else bothered to say anything. I also wonder what I would have done in the same situation. I can only hope that I would have at least asked if the motorist was okay, and maybe offered my cell phone. I'm an advocate of personal safety, but not personal oblivion. When we ignore our fellow man and possibly lie to our children about it, we're doing a disservice to ourselves and our communities. I don't want to live in a place where you can't ask a twentysomething woman in a bright, suburban parking lot if her car is alright when its hood is up and she looks puzzled.

I hope to make conscious decisions to assist those in need of assistance whenever possible, and I hope that Friday's incident in the parking lot was an anomaly, not the norm. Here's to appreciating the good-hearted women who stopped for me and to hoping that those who ignored me will have second thoughts next time around rather than suffer from bad car karma.

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