WWYD: The Stranded Car

In this installment of “What Would You Do?,” a young woman encounters a stranded family while on a day trip. Here’s Dawn:

I was on a day trip for protesting in Harrisburg Pennsylvania against medicare/medicaid cuts on a warm October day. On the way home we stopped just outside of Harrisburg at a convenience store. The four of us got some hot food and ate it outside at one of the tables.

The whole time we were eating, one particular car had pulled in and didn’t leave. There were two women and two small kids in the car. We took about an hour to eat, the car never left and the people in the car stayed put as well. As the four of us walked past the sitting car on the way to ours, the driver asked if she could use my cellphone because her battery had died. I handed it to her and stuck close to the car in case she thought about taking off.

I could hear her telling the person not to call the number back because she was borrowing a phone. After she gave the phone back and thanked me, I asked if there was something I could help with. She said no, that she was trying to get a hold of someone to bring her some gas or money because she was about an hour away from home and was on empty. I told her “good luck,” and mentioned how well behaved the two kids were in the backseat. The women both turned around and smiled at the kids and said, “they have their moments.” We finished loading in to the van.

After I thought about it for a minute or two I got a five and five ones out of my wallet and walked over to the ladies and said, “have a safe rest of your trip” as I handed them the cash. They seemed floored that a stranger was helping them get home. As we gassed up our van, they pulled up to the pump a few over from us, and put the $10 in their tank. If it was a scam to make 10 bucks, they earned it waiting in the car for the time it took for us to finish our meal.

There are scams, and there are people who are genuinely out of luck, and I would have viewed this situation in the latter. Yes, I would have given the woman my iPhone to use, and yes, I would have been a little afraid that she would have driven off with it, too. It’s human nature to feel on guard when talking to strangers. But after listening to the phone call, and seeing the kids in the backseat of the car, I would have handed the family some money—just as Dawn did. I would have been happy to see them able to put gas in their cars. And I would have saluted them before hitting the road.


Email me your WWYD experiences to me with “WWYD” in the subject line. See previous installments.



10 Comments / Post A Comment

aetataureate (#1,310)

I love this one.

Dancercise (#94)

If we were actually already at the gas station, as it sounds like you were, I would have paid for a tank of gas directly. You know, “Let me help you push your car to the pump and we’ll fill it up on me.”

@Dancercise I probably would have paid for the gas directly too, but mostly because I rarely carry cash with me.

kellyography (#250)

@Punk-assBookJockey I third this, and also rarely carry cash. I have totally been running on fumes a long way from home with no money, so I am happy to help in that situation. However, I don’t generally lend people my phone, especially if I’m in a place that has payphones or courtesy phones. Not even because my phone is so valuable – I’m pretty sure it has negative value – I just…people are pretty gross.

Fig. 1 (#632)

What is this, Paul Dano day? (JUST KIDDING. Every day is Paul Dano day!)

on topic: I’d like to think that I’d lend her my phone and give them money, but I’m not sure. When you read stories like these, you imagine a family that looks like yours, so you have no problem thinking you’d do the right thing. Real life is not always the same. I try not to be prejudiced but I have definitely made snap judgements based on appearance. I’m not proud of this.

wallrock (#1,003)

My coworker once left the office for a site trip but accidentally left his wallet sitting on his desk. I got a call from him several hours later, stranded about fifty miles away. As he was seeing about someone (likely me) heading out there to bring him his wallet an old farmer rolled up and pulled a gas canister from the back of his pickup, pouring him enough to get back.

The only time I’ve run out of gas I was driving the big box truck my father used for deliveries. It averaged 7 mpg and unbeknownst to me the gauge for the second tank was broken, so when I went to switch from the empty tank to the full one I was in for a surprise. My father was riding in the passenger seat working on some spreadsheets and as the engine coughed I pulled over in a rural driveway. The owner came out and my father, recognizing his 101st Airborne t-shirt, struck up a conversation. Turns out they were both stationed in the same city in Vietnam two years apart. This old paratrooper gave us a couple gallons of gas and directions to the nearest service station and absolutely would not take any money despite my father’s protestations.

lapgiraffe (#1,336)

This just happened to me TODAY! only a slight variation. I was at one of those highway pull-offs on the Mass Pike, pumping gas, and basically standing toward the highway pretending to not be cold, when a youngish girl (anywhere from 16-26) came up behind me and, politely, gave me a little spiel. She was sorry to bother me, but her and her friends (pointed toward parked cars not at the pump) were wondering if I could help them out, they’re tank is “more than empty” or “beyond empty,” something like that. I made a quick judgment, she looked slightly strung out, skinny in a way that suggests drug use rather than (strictly) hard times, and even though she was polite I just apologized and gave the no cash reason (I think I might have had two dollars, tops).

After she left I thought about paying for the gas directly, as others have mentioned they might do, but there just wasn’t enough people out for me to feel safe enough about it. She gave me the heebie-jeebies enough as it was that I was worried to go inside and use the restroom (I work on the road, I know it’s gross, but sometimes you gotta go!) because I thought she might follow me. She seemed nice enough, and perhaps wasn’t even lying, but my safety radar went off, and it’s not even that sensitive. And it immediately stank of the mother on the subway who just needs $17 dollars for the bus fare to see her sick babies in New Hampshire scam…..

selenana (#673)

I would probably do the same – if I had cash. Like other commenters have pointed out in previous WWYD posts, it’s maybe dangerous/a hassle to take out your wallet, but if I have cash or change handy and someone asks, I usually give.

I have received kindnesses like the one in this post many times. Sure, I’ve met a lot of jerks in the world, but I’ve met a damn lot of nice strangers that have given me a view that I should help out too, when I can. One time I was broken down at a gas station in a blizzard in North Dakota, a punk ass kid with no money and a busted alternator, and a trucker bought me a hot chocolate, and another anonymous trucker (the clerk told us, but he was already gone) got my friend and I a motel room as we were camped out in the cafe part of the shop. We didn’t ask anyone for handouts, but these kind people with very little to give themselves saw our trouble and just helped us out. So often when I’ve received generosity from strangers it’s been from people who had a lot more good spirit than cash. Perhaps because they knew what it felt like.

lizard (#2,615)

this is nice and i feel like she was being truthful. If there are kids involved, 10 bucks is a small price to pay for them to not have to sit in a busted car all day

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