It's tough to known when to offer a helping hand

This Just In...

March 25, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

If you were driving north on the Jones Falls Expressway and spotted a man walking south along the shoulder, would you find it odd? Would you care? Would you pull over and ask if he needed help? If you had a cellular phone, would you report him to police?

My answers to those questions are no, not too much, probably not and maybe. I've seen young men walking along highways and, unless they appeared to be in distress, I never gave them a second thought.

Two years ago, while traveling through New York state, I passed a man and woman holding a baby (with no vehicle in sight) perched on a guardrail along Interstate 84. Seconds later, I spotted a sign with an emergency number for the New York State Police. So, I picked up the car phone and alerted the nearest barracks to what looked like a family in need.

But a guy walking alone, with no obvious sign of distress? I can't say I'd go out of my way.

I raise the question only because someone put it to me the other day.

A man who has a time-pressure job as a courier here said he saw another man, in his early 30s, walking along the shoulder of the JFX near the Ruxton Road exit a week ago today, about 1: 30 p.m.

That evening, the courier heard that a 33-year-old man had been killed at 4: 45 p.m. when he ran onto the JFX near 28th Street and was hit by a van.

"It had to have been the same guy I saw at 1: 30," said the courier. "How many times do you see someone walking along the JFX? Not often."

It turned out the victim had been receiving psychiatric treatment; his mother told police he was a manic-depressive. Traffic investigators said the man may have intentionally walked into the van, though they had no conclusive proof of suicide. All that supported what the courier suspected -- the man on the JFX shoulder had been in some kind of distress.

Still, the courier didn't stop to help. "I would have if I'd had time and not been driving a company vehicle," he said.

He might feel a little guilty about it -- though I don't think he should -- and maybe that's why he told me the story. "But, also," he said, "it looks like, for the three hours he was out there after I saw him, no one else stopped to help, either. No one with a car phone picked it up and called police."

Something's wrong, the courier says. Our eyes and our hearts aren't open enough. We're too rushed, too cynical, too afraid.

Rescue good for angst

Maybe the courier's right.

But every time I hear such grousing about the state of humanity -- and feel tempted to share the sentiment -- along comes a lozenge to alleviate the angst.

The same day of the death on the JFX, a woman named Susan Anderson got stuck in her car -- with her baby and her dog -- just off the expressway, at Northern Parkway and Falls Road. "I was in the left-turn lane at about 10: 30 in the morning, and my car just died," Anderson says. "Even the hazard lights weren't working."

To the rescue came a man in a white pickup truck. "He drove me, my baby [12-month-old Matthew] and my dog [10-year-old Blackie] to the Texaco station across the street," Anderson says. "He was wonderful. He even made a leash out of twine for my dog."

Another man gave Anderson some quarters for phone calls. Another pulled some strings to quickly get a tow truck to the scene. Anderson marveled at all the attention, and held it up as evidence that Western civilization has not yet crumbled. I'm glad to have it. We need all the evidence we can get.

Chewed out at restaurant

And then there's Stan Kopacki, who ran into a bartender with a bad attitude at a restaurant in Timonium. Kopacki was having a glass of cabernet and chewing gum at the same time -- an unusual experience for one's palate -- when suddenly the bartender suggested he leave. Why?

"I lost $50 gambling today, and I don't like your gum-chewing!" the bartender snapped. "It's a hell of a world, isn't it?" Kopacki says. "Is this a new approach in the service industry? Take your personal problems out on the customer?" I'll tell you, Stan: I don't think there's anything new about it at all.

Tainted? Perish the thought

"Disparagement of perishable food products" is an important issue on the Eastern Shore.

It's important to state Sen. Richard Colburn, at least. The Cambridge Republican sponsored Senate Bill 445, which would make it illegal to willfully spread inaccurate information that a "perishable food product is not safe for human consumption."

What brought this on?

The Alar apple panic. It broke out in 1989 when some environmental group claimed the chemical, used to produce firm and colorful fruit, posed a cancer risk to consumers. The Food and Drug Administration discounted the claim, but U.S. apple growers still suffered economic losses. Eventually, they stopped using Alar, and the public concern about apples subsided.

Apparently, it's still on the mind of Senator Colburn.

Of course, he acknowledged that he knew of no similar case in Maryland, but why wait for something bad to happen? What happens if someone spreads false but damaging information about Eastern Shore watermelons? Or what happens if some wacko enviro-terrorist organization starts an ugly rumor about cantaloupes? Huh? What then?

The Colburn bill passed, 25-22, although it still needs House approval. But don't take any chances, friends: Never speak ill of the perishable.

Pub Date: 3/25/96

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