By Hari Atma
My 9-year-old son was excited to work on robots and do a simulated space mission on his upcoming school trip to the Space Challenger Center in Kenai, Alaska. We would drive there from Wasilla, 210 miles (380 km) south. On a beautiful warm April day, we loaded the car with sleeping bags, food and water. After checking the car over, we zoomed off.
An hour from Anchorage my son smelled something burning. A glance at the dash showed the engine temperature was too high! Pulling over, I went to the front of the car, where steam rose from under the hood. I propped the hood up and steam gushed out. We were broken down. Worse, we were in a cold hilly region, with enough snow around us to ski.
As I tinkered under the hood, my son said, “I can’t believe no one is stopping!” I looked up only to see three cars pass us by. I replied, “Someone will, don’t worry. Be positive.”
Finally, a vehicle stopped. A man with a lovely smile, white shoes, and a Hawaiian shirt walked over and asked what was wrong. I told him I thought it was overheating. He introduced himself as Al and looked under the hood. “Your water pump’s out.”
He said that he was a retired mechanic. He had watched in his rear view mirror, noticed that no one stopped, so turned around. “Where are you going?” he asked. I explained that we would sleep that night at a school in Kenai. Then we’d tour the Space Challenger Center the next day, and finally head home.
Al offered to take us to Kenai, where his son-in-law worked at the same school. He said he’d tow our car to Anchorage later, because a professional tow would cost too much. He suggested that we move it to the other side of the road, assuring us that it would be safe for one day. Al drove us to the school and then said, “Call me when you’re done tomorrow and I’ll tow you.” I told him how grateful I was and offered to pay. He replied, “That’s OK. I’m not doing anything anyway.”
After our day at the Space Center, I called Al and he promptly came. After driving us back to the car, he raised it and towed it to Anchorage. I learned that Al had recently lost his wife to cancer, then traveled to all the places with special meaning for them. He had just come back from Australia and Hawaii.
Perhaps there’s a reason why there was apprehension of anyone stopping for us. We are Sikhs, and we wear turbans. Since September 11th, 2001, in the USA there have been attacks on Sikhs. There has been great misunderstanding that we were involved in the terrorist attacks, with which we have no affiliation. But even so soon after his loss, Al didn’t see anything but an opportunity to help.