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I admit being none too happy when I saw the little car with Indiana tags and trailer behind it clogging up the area in front of the gas pumps.
It was Sunday, I was late getting stuff home for dinner and nearly out of gas, but the cheap thrill of pumping marginally cheaper gas suckered me in, and into the chaos I drove.
By the time I maneuvered my way to a pump, uttered a silent cuss at not being able to save 3 cents for the lack of a shopping card and eventually pumped my fill, what was happening was obvious: the little car pulling the trailer was dead and the couple driving it were in a pickle.
A moment of honesty, if you will. I'm a charter member of a loosely organized group I like to call the Reluctant Good-Deed Doers Club, a collection of like-mind people eager to do the right thing while silently figuring that the person in need will gracefully decline. When that happens, it frees me to be on my way, one hand on the wheel, the other doing a reach around to pat myself on the back for being such a good person.
There's another group out there, though, the one I call the Real Good-Deed Doers. They are people who give themselves a reach around only after they've actually helped someone in need by performing an actual deed. Without them we Reluctants might actually have our offers accepted. Then where would we be?
You'll meet one of the Reals in a moment.
By now a tow truck had arrived and was willing to haul the couple's car to a repair shop. The trailer - a low-slung model stuffed full of lawn mowers and toolboxes - was not part of the deal. The trailer, said the driver who hailed from Baghdad (the one in Kentucky), would have to remain where it was. Sorry, Charlie.
Because I didn't have any ice cream melting on the seat of my pickup truck, I walked over to see what, if any, help I could provide.
The man, an older, affable fellow, explained his situation and wanted nothing more from me than the name of a reputable repair shop to which he could have his car towed and if I knew the location of a hotel.
Perfect. A couple of answers and off I could drive, giving myself that well-deserved reach around.
Problem solved, right? Wrong. Sitting there like a blister on life's thumb was his trailer. If left unattended for the night, it would almost certainly fall victim to another group I call the Bad-Deed Doers. By sundown it would find a home behind someone's pickup and be merrily on its way to destinations unknown.
"Tell you what," I said. "How about you and I hook up the trailer to my truck. We'll take it over to my house and I'll drive you back to the hotel. Then in the morning when your car's fixed, you can go to my house, get your trailer and be on your way."
The Reluctant Good-Deed Doer in me had a brief glimmer of hope when I realized that my 1 7/8-inch ball wasn't a match for his 2-inch hitch, but he assured me that if I drove slow, it wouldn't be a problem.
Resigned to the fact that I was now in danger of losing my charter membership by being Real, I backed up, hooked up and prepared to leave.
But as is often the case, a Real let me off the hook.
Jim Marquardt of A&J Tire and Service Center walked over and took over. He said if they wanted to have their car towed to his shop, he'd call his son, see if he could fix it that night and allow the Indianans to be on their way.
As for the trailer, I was welcome to haul it to the his shop and back it into one of the service bays for the night, keeping it away from the Bads on the odd chance that the car repair couldn't be done until morning.
When I arrived, the service bays were open and Jim had things well under control. Heck, to save me from being exposed as one who is lousy at backing up with a trailer, he even grabbed my wheel and deposited the trailer in a service bay, no questions asked.
Freed at last to resume my selfish existence, I accepted the couple's thanks and turned down their offer of payment.
Jim, however, kept piling on, offering them a night in the large camper behind his shop if the car had to wait until morning. For all I know, Real Jim probably took them out for supper and then had them in for a game of pinochle while his son fixed their car. (Note: After I wrote this column, the letter to the editor on this page arrived in my e-mail and I learned just how hospitable Jim and his wife were, which didn't come as much of a surprise.)
On my way home, I started to give myself a reach around but couldn't. Although I'd acted like a Real for only a few moments, the feeling it gave me was considerably better, and one that a fellow could get used to.
Maddening as they can be, perhaps the Reals are on to something. Perhaps their way is the better way, and we Reluctants should disband and join them in their quest to help our fellow man and actually mean it.
Who knows? If Reluctants can become Reals, maybe Bads can become Reluctants and we can all live happily ever after.
Maybe that's what the young people mean when they say they are "keeping it real."