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from Offshore: Thanks, Bob

From time to time it seems appropriate to use my little soapbox to cheer for the good guys.

The general pattern of impromptu favors and helping hands is that wider attention and media recognition are neither sought nor particularly desired. It does make most people feel a bit squirmy to have a fuss made over something that required little of them but a moment’s pause in their routine. I do not mean to embarrass or to exaggerate, only to bring up the subject of how a little act of assistance can do much to offset the aggravations of a hard day, be it our own exhaustion or the headaches brought on by other humans as we are parked in or dumped on, cut off or left out, sassed, snubbed, shushed, shortchanged, sideswiped, or stereotyped.

We write with ire to editors, we rage at clerks and agents, we demand the attention of the supervisor, and we stomp around threatening lawsuit when insults and failures of small import put us in high dudgeon. We become wrathful beyond measure when offered the chance to comment online (facing nobody eye-to-eye, truly the bailiwick of cowards). Let us, now and again, steer in the other direction, promote the goodwill that does exist, and recognize the quiet help of a thoughtful citizen.

Risking too much sugar in my column this week, this kind of thing always reminds me of a driver headed north on Route 1 last spring who blinked his lights at oncoming traffic to alert us — of what, a police car hiding behind a bush? I assumed so. Nope; it was baby ducks. Just like in “Make Way for Ducklings,” he’d seen a family of mallards starting across the highway, just over the brow of the hill and out of sight from the other direction. I was so grateful to be alerted to slow down!

Anyway, the following was sent my way recently, entitled, “Your wholesome story of the week”:

“I backed into the soda delivery man’s giant red truck at work — right into his running board. I have a lot of things on my mind and am a bit stressed. This punctured the bumper on my husband’s car (which I was driving) and tore it off the frame. I went inside, found the delivery man, explained that I was insured and gave him my cell number to talk about exchanging insurance information. I then went upstairs, tried to report it to my manager but couldn’t (she was occupied), so went back out to look at the damage. I was on the ground, attempting to put the bumper back on enough so that I could make it home, when the delivery man came back out. He inspected his truck and decided that he most likely wasn’t going to file a claim. He then came to my car and checked it out. He advised me to use painter’s tape rather than duct tape to hold it on long enough to get home. I explained that I had neither item. He then went to his truck, fetched his screwdrivers and took off all the strips bolts on the car so that we could jury rig it back in place and screw it down, while simultaneously asking me if I was okay and reassuring me he wasn’t mad or upset and that accidents happen. I salute you, Mr. Soda Delivery Man. Thank you for helping out more than you know.”

I’m not sure what she meant by “strips bolts” but I assume that meant screws holding cosmetic trim on the car, which could be removed to free up the screws for this more important temporary repair. What the writer doesn’t tell you is that she was in pain from an illness and was soon to have her appendix out, and had not one spare dollar or spare moment in her day. Somebody later reported they thought the delivery man’s name was Bob.

Having this fender-bender not turn into big drama at her workplace, or provide a trigger for insult or judgement, or turn into a troublesome delay was enormous. For that person, on that day, it was enormous. At other times, a minor incident like that might just be a nuisance and an embarrassment, but not that big a deal. We never know when kindness, patience, or a screwdriver is going to really, really matter.

Send me a few more; I’d welcome the stories. On occasion we might be able to use this space to acknowledge a few nameless folks who disappear after they’ve been great help. This sort of thing isn’t just fluff news and small-town-Sunday drivel; these are a tonic and a powerful antidote to the bad taste in our mouths we might report after reading the “real” news of the day.