Random Acts

Random Acts: Dead Battery, Tropical Storm and Helping Hands to Carry Me Through

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By Random Acts
Sunday, June 21, 2009

Many people harbor the belief that things, both good and bad, come in threes. We've had enough in ones and twos, and in battalions, to think that maybe three in a row is happenstance. But here's someone who was blessed thrice in a single day.

I am a woman, not young, of European descent. One stormy day, I needed help on several occasions. My teenage son, a pet and I were on our way to Ocean City from Northern Virginia. Tropical Storm Ernesto was raging, so it was pouring.

After the Bay Bridge and a travel break, my automobile would not start. Unfortunately, the gas station I found had no repair services. Then a customer, overhearing my discussion with the cashier, offered to try to jump-start the car with his cables.

Partway through the job, the Good Samaritan left to fetch a woman more knowledgeable about vehicles. Together, the two of them worked in the driving rain and fixed the problem. I tried to pay them for their assistance, but they refused. We rode away, so grateful to these kind strangers.

During the trip, the weather worsened. I dropped my son off at our beach condo so he could get the dog, the luggage and himself upstairs. By then, the storm was so bad that someone had closed off access to one side of our building, where the wind had knocked a woman down.

To avoid another dead battery, I left the car at a repair station to be checked the next day. Then I waded across the flooded street to the bus stop. The street was deserted.

When the bus finally appeared, I waved so the driver would see me in the downpour. He drove right by, distracted by construction materials flying in the wind! There were only two passengers aboard, both men apparently in their 20s. One got the driver to stop the bus near the end of the block, where I caught it.

On the bus, I laughed aloud. My preparations for the storm had been futile. My sturdiest umbrella had been ripped to shreds by the gale and was lying in a dumpster. Despite my cheery raincoat, I was soaked to the skin and dripping all over the floor. I was clutching the mangled remains of a beautiful bouquet of flowers from my husband -- a bouquet the wind had tried to snatch away. Meanwhile, debris was flying by the windows in a dark, weirdly lit and surreal landscape.

The bus driver announced that he had to put everybody off at 94th Street because there was a downed power line just beyond that. That meant a five-block walk for me and a 21-block walk for the other passengers.

As I set off on foot, I saw an odd scene ahead. Instead of fixing the power line in the street, the repairman was on the sidewalk hugging a telephone pole!

When I reached the corner, the mystery was solved. The crossroads all go to the beach, and the wind off the Atlantic was ferocious. I could not tell whether the repairman had had time to cut off the electric current to the power line submerged in the water. After repeatedly getting pushed by the gale across the sidewalk toward the broken line, I ran to a fence, grabbed it and hung on.

At that point, the bus passengers trudging behind me came to my rescue. Both men were over six feet tall. One stood on one side of me, and the other stood on the other, each holding me under an arm. In that fashion, they walked me between them to my building and safety.

I invited the gallant strangers to my condominium to take shelter with my son and me from the storm. They politely declined. Then I kissed both young men on the cheek.

The next day, a longtime resident of Ocean City said she had never seen a hurricane in that area as bad as Tropical Storm Ernesto. The damage assessment included many toppled trees, fallen power lines and water-damaged homes. As for me, I smile as I recall Ernesto and the four angels in the storm.

-- Renée Henning, Arlington


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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