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Why I didn't stop to help a man who needed a jump-start

We all like to think of ourselves as potential Good Samaritans, that when called we'll lend a helping hand. The reality, however, can be less than encouraging, a fact I was reminded of recently while driving on a Saturday afternoon through a downtown neighbourhood. As I turned a corner, a man flagged me down. He was standing before an obviously stalled minivan with booster cables in his hands. He held them up imploringly. My instinct was to immediately pull over, but remembered I had to pick up my kids. I only had 20 minutes.

I shrugged and mouthed the words, "Sorry, don't have time." His face registered dismay, then disgust and, as I drove away, I could imagine the words he was using. What kind of person leaves a guy waving jumper cables?

Someone like me, I suppose. I felt like a heel, but experience told me to move on. I'd have stopped without hesitation if I had been certain it would be a simple jump-start.

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We'd attach one red clip to his positive and one red clip to my positive. We'd attach one black clip to my negative and the other black clip to an unpainted part of his car. Then I'd run my engine. It would be done in five minutes.

But there is no such a thing as a "simple" jump-start. It always gets complicated.

It normally starts with a stranded driver waving jumper cables. Then it's five to 10 minutes of me trying to manoeuvre my vehicle close enough to give him or her a boost.

Once accomplished, the first thing out of the driver's mouth is, "Great, do you know how to use these things?"

I do. It's basic. Yet when someone asks me, I begin to doubt myself. It's like when I'm asked to spell a word that I've known since I was a kid; such as, "Is that how you spell 'rhythm'?" I struggle when I have to think about it and start wondering if it's spelled "rythym."

Once I have my head straight, I attach the boosters. Now the stranded driver starts second-guessing me. They'll be quiet at first, but if their stalled vehicle doesn't spring to life and start purring like a Porsche, they panic and I get, "Are you sure it's positive to positive?"

Yeah, I'm sure. I'm lucky if I get out of there in 20 minutes.

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This is not the worst-case scenario. That involves me discovering the booster cables don't work. They're rusted out or simply broken. The driver has never used them or hasn't used them in 15 years.

Now I'm flagging down some other Good Samaritan who has cables and we get to go through the whole, "Do you know how to use these things?" routine. I'm lucky if I'm out of there in 30 minutes.

I haven't needed a boost (to my car) in years. I have a CAA membership. If I'm stranded, I call them. Besides, as an egomaniac and an introvert, the idea of being beholden to a Good Samaritan is odious.

I make sure I don't need boosts by getting regular tune-ups. In fact, the weekend I passed the stranded minivan driver, I'd just paid $321.41 to get the battery and terminals replaced. Like he could have done.

Instead he ran his car into the ground and wanted to get me to give him a boost. If I hadn't been worried about getting my kids, I'd have gone through it all, but I just couldn't risk it. That's why I failed to be a Good Samaritan.

So, I guess the bottom line is, I'm not a nice person.

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About the Author
Road Sage columnist

Andrew Clark, an award-winning journalist, screenwriter and author, is Director of the Comedy Writing and Performance program at Humber College in Toronto. More


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