The summer of 1975 I’d just graduated from college in Southern California and received a 1968 Ford Capri for a graduation present. I had my first job, in Los Angeles. One Sunday night, thinking myself a very independent grown-up, I left my uncle’s place in South Laguna after a visit, without confessing to him that I had less than an eighth of a tank of gas and no cash to buy more en route to L.A. I pulled onto the Pacific Coast Highway and watched the needle descend as I headed north. When I started running on fumes, I pulled into a gas station. There was no self-serve then; there were no credit cards, no ATMs.
I begged the guy at the station. I could write him a check for gas, I said, or I could sleep in my car and try to walk to a town with a bank the next morning. As he was informing me that I could sleep in my car but he’d have me arrested, a station wagon pulled up to the next pump. The driver—a thin, plain, middle-aged guy—overheard the tail end of my failed plea. As the attendant went to serve him, he nodded at me. “Fill her tank first,” he said.
“Really?” I said. Hope bloomed. “Oh, thank you. Thank you. But please. I just need two bucks’ worth. I just need to get home.”
“Fill it,” he repeated to the attendant. Then to me, “You’ll do the same one day, for someone else.”
I keep looking for that hapless young person, hoping to save her night on the road. Meanwhile, in case she never shows up, I try for other acts of random kindness. That quiet driver is always at the pump a few feet away, instructing the attendant to fill mine first.
Lucy Ferriss’s most recent book is The Lost Daughter.
Some people like to travel by train because it combines the slowness of a car with the cramped public exposure of an airplane.
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A: A mechanic.
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