Just as we decided this was the least stressful drive through Norfolk we’d ever taken, the car died at a traffic light. But this story is more about the kindness of strangers than it is about cars.
I knew this was coming. I have a sixth sense about vehicles. I noticed the ’98 Chevy Cavalier was having starting issues quite a while ago; my senses picked up the slight lag as the engine tried to start. Before the traffic light turned green, I felt the palpable silence and knew something was wrong. Within moments, people behind us were honking and I was jumping into the driver’s seat so we could push the car out of traffic.
Been there, done that. Déjà vu.
I was shocked when two men rushed across the road to help us push the car into a convenience store parking lot. I remember when my friend’s car died in North Palm Beach, and no one stopped to help. They just drove around us honking, and we hoped we wouldn’t get hit.
The afternoon was filled with interesting occurrences. I whipped out my shiny silver AAA card, and called for someone to come check the charging system. The alternator was dead. The wait for the first technician was about thirty minutes, then it was another forty-five minutes before the tow truck came. The car had died at noon, and we were supposed to be visiting my grandma.
Instead, I was perched on the front of the car with the hood open behind me, wearing my fishing hat and sunglasses, working on my tan on a Chevy Cavalier.
I watched the world go by, and my boyfriend was surprisingly calm considering it was his car.
More kind strangers appeared. When I had to use the bathroom, there was no public restroom to be found in the convenience store. But the young dark-skinned woman with beautiful braids hanging down her back offered to let me use the employee bathroom.
She warned me I would need a flashlight; there was no light in the bathroom. When I didn’t have one, she loaned me her cell phone to use as a light. I was so grateful I thanked her several times. Instead of worrying I’d run off with her phone, she trusted me.
So far, I like Norfolk even better.
I enjoy watching people.
A tall, skinny, dark skinned man wearing a white t-shirt, with a white cloth wrapped around his head, wandered the streets in a pair of jeans and old shoes, carrying bags. While he walked, a woman pulled up to see if we needed help. She made sure we had someone coming before she left. In traffic, I watched the thin man lean toward her window. Then she appeared to startle and jumped out of the car, while the streetwalker helped her shoo a bumblebee out of her car. She nodded her thanks as she left, and he went back to crossing from one corner of the street to another, back and forth, waving people down, until he finally got a ride from someone in an SUV.
I was struck by how kind everyone was to us, and to one another.
When I wasn’t sure of where we were, a stranger jumped in to help us so we could direct the tow truck to our location.
Meanwhile, I worked on my tan—which was sort of a joke, considering I was already sunburned.
An elderly man with a cane unsteadily crossed Granby, flanked by several watchful nurses. In the middle of the road, he tripped on a median, and there must have been at least eight people running across the street to help him up, directing traffic around him, then stopping traffic altogether as he clambered to his feet.
When my mother broke her wrist when she fell on the sidewalk in Florida, not a single person stopped.
The old man shoved away one of his aides. I overheard he’d hidden four packs of cigarettes in his room at the nursing home, and they were taken away from him. Angry, he’d crossed the busy thoroughfare to buy cigs at the convenience store.
The strangers who’d helped him stand, and made sure he was okay, quickly disappeared moments later into traffic or down the street.
When we got the car to a shop, everyone there was nice and reasonable. They even gave us a discount.
We walked to a restaurant to eat while we waited for the car to be fixed, and the waitress seemed psychic. She brought me exactly what I wanted, when I wanted it, and I barely said a word. Before we left, I thought, I should’ve asked for a travel cup.
Miraculously, the waitress appeared with a travel cup filled with iced tea. “I thought you might want to take it with you,” she said.
Struck by her intuition, I left a fat tip.
Our adventure in Norfolk was long and grueling, but we finally made it to my grandmother’s house. It was an experience in patience—something I have a lot of.
And it was also a reminder. There are good people in the world. And there are a lot of good people in the city of Norfolk, Virginia.
Thank you, Norfolk, for being so welcoming.
If you’re worried the world is falling apart, have hope. There are kind souls out there. Open your eyes, and you’ll see them.