"We can't all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by."
-- Will Rogers
Today, we clap for what one reader calls our "highway angels."
In a world where communities grow impersonal, where political campaigns seek to capitalize on our fears, where crime forces us to barricade our doors, it's time to applaud those daily acts of decency we often take for granted.
Hail, the Good Samaritan.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of motorists break down on Maryland roads.
No definitive statistics are kept on the subject but the American Automobile Association averages about 200,000 emergency service calls a year -- and that doesn't include the Washington suburbs.
Automobile clubs can be a lifesaver, and so can police, but more often than not it is a private citizen who helps a fellow commuter when he is most in need.
A tow truck can do little good if a driver has no way to call for one.
Good Samaritans, particularly those with car phones, frequently provide the vital link to the stranded motorist.
"We certainly get our share of Good Sam calls on a daily basis," says Kenneth B. Taylor, director of automotive services for AAA Mid-Atlantic.
"We must get five to 10 a day. People are still willing to help," he said.
Intrepid Commuter asked our readers if Good Samaritans are still alive and well in the Baltimore area.
Judging from the heroic stories you brought to our attention, the answer is a resounding yes.
You sent us accounts of broken fan belts, radiator hoses, flat tires and other nuisances that left you stranded in some awkward places. There were tales of fear and panic, frustration and misery, sometimes even danger.
But every letter, every phone call had a happy ending because some complete stranger came to your rescue.
Like a modern day Lone Ranger he/she/they refused recompense and usually drove off without leaving his/her/their name.
"I have not forgotten the comfort it was to me to have someone there who was caring and compassionate, and someone who could rationally attend to all the details," writes Patricia Pretl of Baltimore.
Ms. Pretl was assisted by a Montgomery County couple after an accident on her way home from Washington.
"Thank you for allowing me to express my gratitude."
No less grateful is Edward Caldicott of Westminster, whose car broke down in the Harbor Tunnel. He was aided by two young men who not only pushed him out of harm's way but fixed his car by clipping the belt that was stuck to a frozen air conditioner.
"To us, they were angels," he writes.
A Towson resident was saved -- but also a little embarrassed -- by her experience with Good Samaritans.
She was driving south on Interstate 83 when two men pulled alongside and gestured for her to stop.
She was distrustful. Then she realized she had a flat tire. She pulled over only reluctantly, still fearful that even on this busy highway, she might be harmed.
"Well, they pulled in behind me, changed the tire, refused money, and we were all on our way in less than 10 minutes," she writes.
Jim Richardson of Baltimore admits that he and his wife were also "wary of strangers."
But they were grateful nonetheless when a couple in a station wagon picked them up after their car tumbled into a water-filled ditch along Route 301 in Southern Maryland after dark in the middle of a pouring rain.
"We were pretty sure, had the situation been reversed, that probably we would not have stopped," he writes.
Not only was Doris Pluemer of White Marsh helped by a Good Samaritan when her car broke down on Route 7 on her way to Essex Community College last spring, but two other motorists stopped in succession to offer her a lift to class.
"To all three gentlemen who stopped to help me that morning, my heartiest thanks, and especially to the Towson barber who took me to class, my sincere appreciation," she writes.
What makes these Good Samaritans act like Good Samaritans?
None of our readers could provide a complete answer.
Maybe it's a sense of obligation for our fellow drivers, a tug of duty some of us feel. Perhaps people simply enjoy the opportunity to help others in the same way that volunteers get a sense of satisfaction from making the world a little bit better.
As final evidence that the tradition of Good Samaritans continues, we present Alexander D. Mitchell IV of Laurel.
He's 28 years old and has been employed in a variety of temporary jobs, so it's safe to say he's neither rich nor does he have a lot of leisure time.
But Mr. Mitchell likes to help people.
He drives a 1986 Colt hatchback his friends call "The Dumpster" because it's loaded down with emergency supplies like tools, ropes, two sets of jumper cables, a CB radio, fire extinguishers, spare maps to give away, sand, even some universal spare parts.
He stops for motorists whenever he sees the opportunity and has the time, maybe twice a month, for the past six years. He has never accepted compensation.
"Someone once said that the kindness we do unto others is the rent we pay for living here on Earth," Mr. Mitchell writes. "That is my attitude, and I try to make it rub off on the people I help."
We salute Mr. Mitchell and those other Good Samaritans who make commuting -- and its unexpected crises -- a little bit easier.
Keep in touch
Write to the Intrepid Commuter, c/o The Baltimore Sun, P.O. Box 1377, Baltimore 21278. Please include your name and telephone number so we can reach you if we have any questions.
Or use your Touch-Tone phone to call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800, and enter Ext. 4305. Call 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County.