Maybe it’s just me. Probably is.
I sat in the parking lot of Lane Forest Products and called 911. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I didn’t understand what I saw. But I was very, very concerned.
Let me set the stage. It was mid-afternoon here in Eugene. It’s been hot lately. Ya notice? It was 95. Not a cloud or drop of rain in sight. Hot as hell, in fact.
I had taken the Glenwood exit to Springfield. You curve to the right and then drive over the overpass. On the bridge I saw an older man, slim, grey-haired guy, walking briskly, carrying a twelve-pack of toilet paper by the plastic wrapper. He was moving out. Fast. Not looking behind him. He’d already crossed over I-5 and was barreling up Glenwood.
Well behind him, seemed to me, was his wife, or at least likely someone he knew. She was heavy, probably around 200 lbs easy, bright red shirt. Short, curly grey hair, glasses. She was all the way on the other side of the bridge, just at the start of the overpass.
In real distress. She had stopped, and was leaning heavily on the bridge. The sweat on her face shone in the sun. She clearly had reached her limit. Her mouth was open like she was gasping for air. In that heat, she probably was gasping for air.
I slowed down. Memorized the details. On one hand, I wanted to stop and help. There was no place to pull over. On the other, when it comes to situations like this, since I don’t know what’s going on, some stranger stopping to intervene can get nasty. You can end up causing more harm than good. Maybe the guy was packing. However, I was genuinely worried about the woman on the bridge, standing there in the hot sun, clearly in trouble.
I gunned it to the nursery and called 911.
Gave the operator all the details. One of the best things about being a journalist is that you see things: details, the colors of people’s clothing, the kinds of identifiers that an ambulance driver or a police professional can easily spot. Witnesses are famously awful about what they saw or think they saw. In this case, being accurate might well keep someone from having a heat stroke, so details mattered.
I had to make the best decision I could at the time.
The operator was inundated with calls and kept putting me on hold. Lots of folks having a tough time with this heat and each other. She promised to have someone out as soon as possible.
I have no idea what happened. If the woman made it, if her friend/husband/whoever had the decency to check on her, go back and help. Who knows. Again, I have no clue if they were connected, but a reasonable person might make that intuitive leap.
In our increasingly litigious society, Good Samaritans can be punished or sued for doing their best to be caring neighbors. That’s made me a bit leery, but I am not going to let something slide because of fear of retribution. We have resources here in Eugene, including CAHOOTS, which has become the model for non-police intervention. I like that about my town.
Eugene is a magnet for homeless folks, and is doing its best to find ways to help even those who steadfastly refuse any kind of facilities. I have dumped online communities where I’d reached out to make friends. Why? The nature of comments, the heated vitriol directed at homeless folks, demonstrating not the slightest bit of understanding, empathy or patience. THEY’RE ALL METH ADDICTS.
Really. Tell that to a family of four bankrupted, living in a car because of a child’s chemotherapy, asshole.
Here’s where we are when it comes to whether it makes sense to help each other:
With people eager to gain money even from those who are friends, whose best intention is to save a life or help, look, I don’t blame folks for passing on giving a hand. By the same token that hardly gives us the right to throw acid in the faces of folks having a rough time of it. However that seems to be the new national sport.
I care enough to do something. But our twisted society cares more about money than morality. In this case, for my part, the best course of action was to make a call and hope for the best.
No matter what their relationship, and I am assuming they were connected in some way (it’s reasonable and again I may well be dead wrong) my point is who leaves an older woman panting on the roadside, clearly in distress, in the middle of a very hot summer afternoon?
That seems to be where we’re headed. At least some of us.
While I didn’t stop to give her a ride, I did call in the cavalry. I hope they got there. I hope she’s all right.
Where we are headed, we need more people willing to do something. It’s getting hotter, more crowded, people are more unpredictable. Call me crazy, call me stupid, part of the compact to be in community was to hang in there when our partner’s tongue is hanging out. Or someone who clearly is in trouble, friend or acquaintance or utter stranger.
People might attack her for being fat. People might attack her for being stupid for being outside in that heat while fat. I could go on. Does it matter how she ended up overheated, exhausted, on one end of a bridge in the high heat? How the fuck is that our business?
Perhaps she’s got dementia. Perhaps she’s lost. Perhaps….does it matter? She was in trouble.
People end up in dire straits for a billion different reasons.
I chose Eugene for a lot of reasons. This is a smaller city, small-town feel and atmosphere. People here let you into traffic. Hold doors open for people. I come from a small farming community, and I specifically chose this as my landing place. I want to live where people care about each other. And while people most certainly do care about each other most places, the way we treat each other in general has gone in the toilet. If you want a good example, just check out all the heaving bosoms and bullying that goes on right here on Medium, whether it’s about Shannon Ashley’s GoFundMe campaign or privileged white men (or both) or racism or any other damned thing.
Go look at the vicious abuse heaped on folks all over social media. All the hate for people who are already hurting. I got that just yesterday when some dimwit threw acid in my virtual face on a heartfelt article about the loss of a friendship. I’m the wrong person to do that to, if you think you’re going to get off scott-free.
We bully the living crap out of each other. And it is turning too many of us into armored vehicles barreling through life, unconcerned with the well-being of others.
I do give a damn. And I will take action. I don’t need a hero button. What I would prefer is the knowledge that we as a nation possess a modicum of compassion, and if we are too goddamned self-absorbed to make a necessary phone call, a donation or send a kind word, we at least have the decency not to hurl invectives and abuse at someone having a hard time.
Because your turn is coming, Sparky. We all get there, whether from bad choices or shit luck or sheer stupidity. Or old age, infirmity, dementia. We all get there.
And all you can do is hope someone stops, helps, or at least, calls in the cavalry for you.