The word is often overlooked in these cynical days. Being helpful is usually paired with an attitude of “what’s in it for me?”
But not always. Sometimes human goodness for the sake of itself is displayed when least expected.
Just yesterday, I was in Nashville to return some rented camera gear. After making the transaction, I returned to the parking lot, climbed into my 17-year-old pickup truck, and turned the key. I was met by a rapid-fire clicking sound in the engine.
Our kids had driven the other car to high school, leaving my wife, Holly, working at home with no wheels, so I was stuck.
A kind employee of Rentacamera.com tried to jump-start my truck to no avail. His little car didn’t have enough juice for my truck.
“There’s an NTB store right around the corner at the bottom of the hill,” he offered. “You can easily walk there.”
Great idea! I grabbed my wallet and hoofed it through the 92-degree humidity down to NTB store and walked into the modern, air-conditioned main customer service area. A young bearded guy stood behind the counter.
“What can I do for you?”
“Well, I’m in a bit of a fix,” I said and explained my situation. “Can you help me out?”
“I can sell you a battery,” the guy said flatly. “My guys are too busy to do anything else. If you want to, you can wait in here and hope we slow down. Might be a few hours.”
I was stunned.
“Seriously?” I said. “I’m like 30 seconds away. I just need a battery popped in.”
The guy was unmoved and just stared at me, ignoring my reply. It was clear that he wasn’t about to expend any mental or physical energy helping me devise a plan although the showroom was empty except for him and me. As we stood there, a tumbleweed rolled through the room and a coyote yipped in the distance.
I went to the window and looked up and down the street. About a quarter of a mile away was an old, well-worn Firestone tire shop. I glanced back at the NTB employee, who was staring at his computer screen, studiously ignoring my presence.
“Okie dokie,” was all I could say.
I walked out of NTB and headed up busy 8th Avenue South to Firestone, soaked with sweat by the time I walked in. A female customer service rep welcomed me to the small store, and I explained my dilemma.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “We’re not allowed to do any work off-site. But I can ask one of the guys to drive you up there and try to jump you off with a battery pack.”
She walked into the garage area and spoke briefly with one of the mechanics, a heavily tatted, bearded dude who looked like he would be at home on the seat of a Harley Davidson chopper or perhaps, as an extra on “Game of Thrones.”
Better keep an eye on this cat, I thought.
Within a minute, he had pulled up outside the door in an old, dented Ford Explorer and was motioning to me. Apprehensively, I climbed into the passenger side.
“Thanks so much, man,” I said. “You’re really helping me out.”
“Ah, no big deal,” the guy said. “Glad to help.”
My apprehension immediately disappeared and I inwardly chastised myself for being an idiot. We chatted as he drove to my truck, exchanging ‘How I Moved to Nashville’ stories.
No luck with the battery pack.
“You definitely need a new battery,” the mechanic said. He offered to drive me back down to the store, wait for me to purchase my battery, and drive me back.
“I’ll just ‘loan you’ my tools to install the new one,” the guy said with a wink.
Within 10 minutes, we were back at my truck with the new battery. The mechanic — whose name I’d better leave out — installed the thing, noticing that one of the battery cables was nearly rusted through.
“Once we get it going, drive back down to the shop and I’ll fix that cable,” he said. “No charge.”
He did so without fanfare. Before I left, I asked for his mailing address.
“I’m going to send you a little something in the mail,” I said as I shook his hand.
“Well, you don’t have to do that!” he responded.
“Neither did you,” I pointed out. “You could have stood there and done nothing like that asshole at NTB. But you chose to help me at risk of your own job, and I appreciate it.”
It’s a simple lesson, but here’s my new mantra:
Be like Firestone, not like NTB; the world will be a better place.