America, the Beautiful

America, the Beautiful

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon

This past week, Lisa and I took off in a rental car to drive to Tucson. She’ll spend time there to follow up on matters following her father’s death in February. The 16-hour drive went fairly easily as we took turns driving, listened to music, and caught up on conversations we had postponed. Our driving companion was our dog, Charley, who sat comfortably and made no claims on the music or a/c temperature settings. Our periodic stops were at familiar places like Buc-ee’s in Texas, and truck stops or smaller gas stations when we needed them.

At each stop, we calculated our new ETA, decided who walked the dog, who pumped the gas, and who went inside to use the facilities first. Along the way, our plan worked well and we accomplished everything we needed to do. But there was a bonus we began to observe along I-10, from Texas to Arizona.

At stops we made, we observed and interacted with people who were young and old, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and more. They drove sedans, SUVs, pick-ups, minivans, and work trucks. When we approached each other in the store or at the counter to pay, everyone was especially courteous and helpful. People exchanged “Good morning” and the old-fashioned “Thank you,” and “After you,” at the door as we came and went. There was no hint of discomfort or fear between strangers.

Once, when our rental car registered low coolant, we exited immediately again. The truck stop had no coolant for personal cars, just semis. Across the street, at a smaller gas station, we found what we needed but faced an additional problem. The coolant container had instructions that I didn’t understand, so I asked the woman behind the counter for help. She called on her husband who knows about these things, she said. He and I went to our car, I released the hood latch, and he opened the hood. We both looked inside, except that he knew what he was looking for and I didn’t. He opened the “thing,” and poured the coolant into it, and then securely closed the hood when he was finished. I thanked him generously and offered a tip, but he shook his head. “Glad to help,” and I thanked him again.

Down the highway a few hours, we filled up with gas again but when we pulled out of the station another dashboard light told us we had a tire with low pressure. We circled back to the station, which had no air pump, but a helpful customer lent us his tire-pressure gauge. I knew how to use it, so I demonstrated to Lisa that I knew how to check the tire pressure. She wasn’t impressed, but I determined that the light didn’t say “flat tire,” which was accurate, but it did mean that the tire went below the set tire-pressure. In effect, we were fine until we found an air pump later. We returned the tire-gauge with more thanks and appreciation.

To the cynic, such courtesies were our best efforts to avoid confrontation between strangers. Granted no one sat down over coffee to get to know one another, but that’s not the point of a highway stop for gas and logistics. When we returned to our car after each stop, we focused on getting back on the highway in the right direction, but not without acknowledging the kindnesses we experienced.

Every day the news reminds us that our nation is struggling on many levels. But our two days on the highway reminded us that at our nation’s most personal level all is well, or at least a lot better than we might have thought. Simple courtesies, helping stranded motorists, and words of thanks and “after you,” are the start of bigger things that might bring us to the table, over coffee or a drink, to talk about what we care about, what our families dream about, and how to get there, together.

I’m glad to say that Lisa and I arrived at our destination, better for it, and ready for the week ahead of us. How am I getting home? While Lisa remains in Tucson for a little while, I’m flying home. I only hope passengers in the airport and on the plane will be as courteous and helpful as the men and women we met along the highway. Travel safely this summer on land, sea, and air. Extend thanks and appreciation and receive all people kindly. Ever hopeful, the divided America we wake up to each day is still built on the people who live among us, who depend on us, and on whom we depend, too.


America, the Beautiful 3