Saved by a White Lie

Pat Fletcher
Washington, USA

We were in our 20’s, with two small children — our ability to take a vacation constrained by a very tight budget. Many times in the 1960’s and ’70’s we returned to New York City from vacation with just enough gas and no money for tolls. But one vacation in 1966 almost ended on our way north from NYC.

The car stopped suddenly around midnight on the New York State Thruway. We coasted to the side and discussed our next move. My NYC born-and-raised husband had only driven for about a year, and had no clue why an engine would die.

I dug a flashlight out of the camping gear, and we both looked under the hood — blankly. Just then a trooper stopped. He called a tow truck, which arrived after an hour. The trooper stayed, gently breaking the news that it was probably the alternator, about $70 to repair. We had the cash — but had planned to spend under $100 on our two-week vacation. I’m certain my face mirrored my husband’s stricken expression.

White LieThe trooper left after the tow truck arrived. The 50-ish driver owned the nearest gas station, in Saugerties, New York. When we arrived, he decided to work on our car, “since your kids are asleep and I’m awake”. We moved the kids into sleeping bags, then they and I slept on the two tired sofas in the station. Thus I’d be awake enough to drive whenever the car was ready — back to the city, of course, since we’d be broke. My husband followed the owner into the garage to learn something about cars and engines.

When my husband woke me, I reached for my purse to pay the bill. But the station owner insisted that my husband had done most of the work. He would accept only $10 for parts. I drove north, both of us happy that the vacation could continue, though we’d have to pinch pennies for a couple of weeks.

Whenever we were in the area for the next seven years, we stopped at that gas station: for gas, to get a taillight fixed, whatever. The station owner always remembered us, and exclaimed over how much our sons had grown. Before we moved to the Midwest, I insisted I must pay him the old alternator bill.

He laughed and said it had been paid many times over because we always stopped in. Moreover, the trooper had alerted him to our dilemma and paid half the bill. Our $10 kept his portion to his labor charge. We all laughed as he related how hard it was to invent the white lie about my husband’s help.

Ever since, our two grown sons, my husband, and I all stop for stranded motorists and use our cell phones to call help. Sometimes our cash pays for towing. Remembering the night we were almost penniless, we’re simply honoring the gas station owner and the trooper who taught us the true meaning of interdependence.

Originally published as HeroicStories #475 on Jan 1, 2004

4 thoughts on “Saved by a White Lie”

  1. Well I started my very early morning off (4:45 am couldn’t sleep as most of us ‘older folk’ tend to do after a while) with a good dose of rock ‘n roll. McLean’s “American Pie”; Roy Orbison’s Black and White album starting with “Cryin” after listening to McLean’s version (astounding) and then on to the Traveling Willbury’s End of the Line. Rockin’ Out!

    And to add to the joy, this story. Thanks for all you do Leo!

  2. We had a similar experience in 2013. My husband and I were driving our daughter and her 2-month old son back to Northern California from Washington, where her husband was stationed in the Navy. The four of us were in her husband’s truck with a pile of their belongings as our daughter and grandson were going to be with us while he was on deployment.

    Outside of Redding, the truck started acting up. Fairly certain it was the alternator, we tried to get back to a truck stop one exit down but didn’t make it. Stranded by the side of the road, we called the auto club people who helped us to figure out what to do – two hours from home. Our son was dispatched from home to rescue us but in the meantime, the auto club sent a taxi to collect us and take us someplace warm.

    Bill from ABC Taxi, out of Redding arrived and listened to our sad tale and waited with us until the tow truck arrived. He took my daughter, grandson, and me to Denny’s and then went back to make sure our son was on his way to effect rescue. Bill turned off his meter after half an hour and stayed beyond what would have been his normal work shift. He was so kind – a true gentleman. I gave him all the cash I had – certainly not enough to compensate him. I will be forever grateful to him for his generosity and caring.

  3. So fantastic that even after all these years you continue to help the stranded motorists. You are some very special people and we thank you for that!!

  4. What a wonderful story. I lived in NYS most of my life and had many NYS Troopers as friends. I can tell you that it does not surprise me at all that one would perform such an act of kindness for strangers.


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