Letter from America: Little Things Matter!
In the spring of 1979, I accompanied some friends who were traveling from Edmonton, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada. Considering the long trip – almost 1200 kilometers, which can take at least 12 hours, we decided to leave at night and take turns driving the car. At night, with hardly any traffic on the highways, such trips usually take less time to reach a destination.
An older friend had a big, old Chevrolet Impala Station Wagon, which could comfortably seat seven riders. We tied our bags on the top of the wagon thus allowing the back seat riders to sleep with their legs stretched out.
Within probably an hour into our trip, I started feeling sleepy, and dozed off only to be awakened by the horns of a car that was following us. I also saw car indicator light signals flushing, as if to stop us. But our driver friend would have none of those signals to retard his speed. He was probably driving at speeds way above the allowable speed limit of 100 km per hour. The riders of the other car were ordinary young Canadians and were not from the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). The fact that it was a long weekend and after midnight, our driver friend did not want to slow down or stop, assuming that those guys were drunk Canadians, and meant trouble.
After racing for another half an hour, the other car driver was eventually able to overtake us. His friend sitting on the passenger side screamed through the rolled down window for us to stop our car and succeeded in forcing our driver to comply more like a cop would do to block a car from moving forward. The sudden stop had woken up the rest of us inside the car. As we curiously looked out, we saw them bring out a suitcase from their car, which belonged to one of us. Obviously, the suitcase was not tied up properly on the upper rack of the wagon and fell down while our driver friend was speeding his car. He simply did not realize the problem.
Those two Canadians saw the suitcase fall and picked it up from the highway and were following us for almost an hour only to return that piece of luggage. Their homes were sixty miles away in the opposite direction, very close to the place where they found the suitcase. After returning our suitcase, they turned around their vehicle in the opposite direction and sped away without allowing us enough time to thank them for that noble deed.
Nearly 23 years have passed by since I left Canada to pursue my doctoral work and eventually settle in the USA. But still that piece of Canadian kindness has remained as fresh as ever in my memory. Canada was a much colder place for someone like me coming from the tropical South Asia and I moved out in 1980 to warmer and beautiful southern California to pursue my doctoral studies.
Another time, on a very cold, icy day, I was in a car with some friends returning to Saskatoon from Regina, the provincial capital city of Saskatchewan. On our way, our car suddenly hit ‘black ice’ – a thin coating of glazed ice on road surface that is virtually transparent, and thus difficult to distinguish it from snow and frozen slush or thicker ice layers. Deicing with salt, which helps to depress the freezing point of the solvent (water) per Le Chatelier’s Principle, usually works well down to a temperature of minus 18 degrees C. But if the road temperature is below that, then ‘black ice’ formed on roadways, especially bridges and highways can be quite dangerous unless properly treated with more effective salts.
As soon as our car hit ‘black ice’, it spun out of control and threw us all into a pile of snow between the highways going in the opposite directions. Canadian highways, especially in the middle Prairie territories, are much less frequented by commuters than their counterparts in the USA. In those days, there were no cell phones either, and the likelihood of finding a phone booth on the roadside to call CAA (Canadian Automobile Association) or the police was rather remote. As such, we were quite vulnerable – being stranded in a freezing cold day on a highway halfway between the two cities, separated by roughly 300 kilometers.
Fortunately, the driver of a small pickup truck was able to spot us, and seeing our miserable condition stopped by and promptly offered us help without any monetary incentive. He had a long piece of rope, which he tied to the rear bumper of his truck, and we tied the other end to the bumper of our car. Slowly but steadily he pulled our car from the pile of snow. Driving carefully, we were then able to return to our dorms.
Before I came to Canada, I heard people say negative things about the people of Canada – that they are closet racists. And sure, there were occasions in which I was pained in my heart to hear young Canadians taunting anyone that looked brown calling them ‘Pakis.’ But I have come to overlook their fault and cherish their kindness which they showered on me when I needed help. Thank you, Canada. Little things matter!
- Asian Tribune -