Sarah Schrock of Rockville describes herself as a 26-year-old woman with a "potential problem." I'd say it's more than potential.
Sarah doesn't own a car, so she depends on -- and routinely rides -- the Montgomery County Ride-On buses. But the route that passes closest to her home doesn't operate on weekends. So Sarah often has to hoof it a couple of miles to Veirs Mill Road to reach a grocery store or a Metrobus.
Last month, she was "cruised" twice by men. One marched right up to her and asked her for a date. Sarah brushed him off, but he followed her on foot for a considerable distance before giving up.
The second man was driving a van. He coasted slowly past her in the same direction she was going. Then he made a U-turn and drove slowly past her in the opposite direction. Finally, he pulled into the parking lot of a school and just stared at Sarah.
Her question: "Short of robbing a bank for money to buy a car, Mr. Levey, what do you suggest I do to protect myself against these marauding males?"
I'd say the least risky course, in most situations, would be simply to ignore these oafs. Don't tell them to buzz off. Don't try to reason with them. Just keep your eyes straight ahead -- and your feet moving in the same direction.
But I recognize that there are situations where this advice might backfire. Any readers out there who can offer something better?
Fairfax: Doctors aren't the only ones to have given up house calls. Auto mechanics aren't particularly wild about on-site visits, either. But Mike Cox broke that rule in the middle of a recent rush hour -- to come to the aid of a doc.
Jeffrey M. Schulman, M.D., found himself behind the wheel of a dead Volvo at the intersection of Routes 50 and 123. He opened the hood, and studied the spaghetti underneath. But who knew what to do? Dr. Jeff was about to step off in search of a gas station when Mike braked to a stop.
Mike happens to work for HBL Volvo, which is just down the street from the scene of the breakdown. In moments, Mike discovered that the problem was a blown fuel pump fuse. A nearby gas station sold the doc a new one for 35 cents. He was on his way in less than 10 minutes.
"Hats off to Mike and the other Volvo mechanics of the world," says Dr. S. "Your dedication to keeping your cars running sometimes knows no bounds."
Northern Maryland: It had been a lovely vacation on Cape Cod, but it turned unlovely for Jane and Molly McGlade just south of the Delaware-Maryland border on I-95, when their car went on the blink.
Chris Lloyd of Waldorf soon appeared. He quickly analyzed the trouble (blown clutch), offered to drive the McGlade sisters into the nearest town so that they could arrange for a tow, then took them all the way to Jane's home in Riverdale.
Cherry on top: the tow truck driver wouldn't take a check. So Chris "fronted" $40 in cash, and accepted a check from Jane, a total stranger.
When Jane's brother heard the story, he called Chris an "awesome samaritan." I sure agree.
Quantico: John Baker of Arlington and his wife lost the services of their water pump right near this famous Marine town. But it was a Saturday, and none of the Quantico gas stations could install a new pump until Monday.
James Queen to the rescue. James overheard John describing his plight. He drove John and his wife home, fixed their water pump himself and brought the car to Arlington by noon the next day.
Bethesda: In case you were thinking that all samaritans are male, Margaret McDonald would like you to meet Elizabeth Johnson.
When Margaret's car coasted to a mysterious halt near the River Road exit of the Beltway, Elizabeth was quick to stop and offer assistance.
"She took us to a phone booth on River Road while I called the AAA and the office, and she called her office," Margaret writes. "She even offered us the change to make the calls . . . . The world needs a few million more ladies just like her."
Who could argue?
Four is the age when many kids begin to read. The other day, Gwen Tracy saw a chance to help her nephew, Kenny Herrell of Rockville, along that path.
Gwen came home from an office gathering wearing one of those insufferable "HI MY NAME IS . . . ." stick-on badges. She had written her name in the appropriate space.
Kenny noticed the badge, and immediately rattled off all the letters in Gwen's name, one by one. But he couldn't form the letters into words.
"Come on, Kenny," Gwen urged, pointing to G-W-E-N. "This is the first word of my name. What must it say?"
Kenny thought for a second.
"Aunt," he finally said.