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Peter Laufer is the University of Oregon James Wallace Chair Professor in Journalism and author of The Elusive State of Jefferson: A Journey through the 51st State.
This story originally appeared in The Register Guard.
“Oregon Nice,” it’s still a thing.
This I’m-so-happy-to-live-in-Eugene tale has a storybook ending.
I was driving back toward home, cruising up I-5 past Ashland and the devastation the Almeda fire caused when it raced through Talent and Phoenix, such a stark reminder of how many Oregonian’s lives have been catastrophically upended this fire season.
As I headed toward Roseburg, I listened to KLCC for a few minutes. It was an assault of bad news: Covid spiking and examples of such stark political and social divisiveness amongst us Americans – we no longer seem to debate issues, we just yell at each other. As I crossed into Lane County the blue sky darkened along with my mood. We both turned gray.
I needed to pick up a prescription. As I turned into the Walgreens parking lot off Coburg Road I looked inside the store. Which is better: mask-up and brave fellow shoppers or wait who knows how long in the drive-up window line? I chose the anonymity and Covid-free zone of my old Volvo.
And what a long wait it was.
There was a glitch for the customer in the car in front of me. So I switched on KWAX and was lulled into peacefulness by a classical piece they chose that was perfect for the occasion. I cannot remember what it was because when the car in front of me finally moved, I couldn’t. Wanting not to pollute our post-fires pristine air with my exhaust, I had shut off the engine. And the radio drained the battery. Mr. Old Volvo would not start.
I told the woman behind me in the long line that the battery was dead and as she maneuvered around me, I dragged out my Triple-A card and called for help. While I was on interminable hold, she finished her business and then got out of her car and walked back toward mine. I masked-up (as was she) and got out to meet her.
“I’ve got cables,” she told me with a friendly smile (we’re learning to read smiles in our eyes). “How about I turn around and give you a jump?”
I popped the Volvo hood, she hooked up her battery and I clipped the cables on mine. It was obvious to those waiting in the long line what was happening. Her car was blocking the window. No one could get to the window while we waited for my car to start, unhooked the cables and she backed her car out of the driveway so I could reach the clerk.
During the whole process not one horn honked. “Oregon nice” may be a weary cliché, but it really is nice when it works.
Of course I thanked her profusely and asked her name. I told Toni my next stop would be to procure a set of cables and think of her when I helped someone who needed a jump.
“That’s all I want,” said Toni as I thanked her a few more times. “Just pay it forward.”
Through the whole process her daughter was watching from the passenger seat. The little girl’s classwork may be zoom-bound these pandemic days, but her mama provided her (and all of us in that Walgreens line) with a great refresher lesson. We’re in this life together whether it’s natural disasters, unnatural politics, a deadly pandemic or just a dead battery.
And of course now there are jumper cables on the back seat floor of the old Volvo. Thanks again, Toni.
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