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The Kindness Of Strangers

We’d left our bikes down south when we came back home this spring, so I decided to give one of South Bend’s ubiquitous LimeBikes a try. I knew how to do it. I’d read the directions: I just needed a credit card, a download, and a smartphone for the scan that would unlock the bike.

The downloaded app showed three bikes near my house. Choosing the one at Leeper Park, I stuck my phone in my pocket and trotted down the hill.  When I found the bike, I crouched behind it, put my phone in camera mode and started moving it slowly back and forth over the little QR code. Not only was there no quick response, there was no response at all.

I tried again; the bike just sat there. I raised my eyes and looked around the park, torn between hoping nobody was watching and wishing somebody would help me.

And there he was, a tall dark stranger headed my way. “Having trouble with your LimeBike?” he asked.

“Yeah! It doesn’t seem to want to scan,” I said. I demonstrated my technique for him.

With just the slightest lift of the eyebrow, he said, “No, you scan by taking a picture of the QR box. Try that.”

“Oh, really,” I said.

As soon as I snapped the picture the bike lock snapped open. I stowed my phone, hopped on the bike and turned to thank my kind stranger, but he was already halfway up the hill. He waved his hand to my shouted thanks.

That was not the first time I’d found myself depending on the kindness of strangers. On our second date, my partner Riely and I rented a kayak and paddled through the bird sanctuary on the Galien River in southwest Michigan. It was so idyllic I bought us a ‘Sunny’ brand inflatable kayak for his birthday. 

Our lipstick-red Sunny, over 12 feet long, was made of a very heavy-duty, rubber-imbued polyester. It had two inflatable seats, a little stationary rudder, and its own foot-powered air pump. No battery needed: how cool was that! And, the advert promised that this kayak stowed away in a pack small enough to fit under the seat of an airplane. That worried me: I was like, Hmmmph: If I stow a kayak under my seat, where will I put my books? And my snacks? 

We went back to the Galien River, though, for our maiden voyage: partly for the romance, but also because it has a big gravel parking area where we could get her up and running. We soon had that Sunny out of its pack and unfolded on the ground. Soon after that we were about fed up with trying to get all the pieces parts where they purportedly went.

Following the instructions, we’d inflated the kayak halfway, and then, using the really little nuts and bolts they supplied, we tried to affix the seats and the rudder to the kayak body, but it was simply too limp to get a good grip on. And that foot pump, which squeaked every time we stepped on it, was only as powerful as the leg attached to the foot. 

Turning 12 feet of heavy floppy rubber into a sleek and turgid vessel was proving impossible. We were about to give up and go eat hamburgers at the Roadhouse when, in a spray of gravel, this little silver convertible pulled up alongside. From where we knelt in the dirt searching the instructions for hidden clues, we looked up to see two glowing young people smiling down on us.

The man behind the wheel hollered out, “How do you like your Sunny?” The woman sitting next to him beamed with anticipation of our reply.

Riely and I looked at each other, our matching frozen grins reflecting inner turmoil. “Well,” Riely began, holding out his long arms to encompass the scene. . . . .

“We can’t figure out how to put this thing together,” I blurted, “and we can’t get it pumped up all the way.”

Their grins grew even larger. Those kind strangers jumped out of their roadster and showed us how to do it all. They were Sunny inflatable kayaks experts! As we worked they said nice things, like “I remember the first time,” and “Once you get the hang of it,” and “Just don’t give up on that pump!”

And as soon as they had us ready to launch, they jumped back in their convertible, and with couple of jaunty waves, disappeared down the road. Again, we barely had time to thank them. But you know it’s not the ‘thank you’ that drives such behavior; it’s the pleasure inherent in being the competent one. 

Ineptitude: my gift to humanity. Not really. Not by a long shot. Sometimes I’m the competent one. I’m just saying that in my experience if we have enough interest and enthusiasm to get started, kind strangers just might be there, willing to help, when we look up.

Molly B. Moon is a retired Language Arts teacher and a musician who lives in South Bend.