I was headed towards the bridge over the Connecticut River yesterday, girding my loins for a three hour drive east, when I noticed a car pulled off to the right, parked askew, having just missed the turn onto the interstate ramp but definitely making the island that divided the on and off ramps.
An older woman was out of the car, in the street, trying to get attention from passers-by. No one stopped, and two thoughts collided in my mind: one - I was afraid for her, and her safety; second - I was afraid for me, and my safety. The former won out in an instant, and I pulled over, taking care to miss her and her car. She charged toward me before I could even stop, much less roll down the window. But stop and roll down I did, and she poked her head in the window. "Is this the entrance to 91 south?" she asked. "Yes, I replied, and she hustled back to her car and I continued on my way. It was a simple, ten second good deed.
Several years ago, I was in a neighboring town and another woman hailed me down. i stopped and rolled down the window, but she stepped off the curb, opened the door, and got in. She asked to go to a local eatery, perhaps five blocks away, and we preceded there. However, when we got there, she asked to go to the next town, which was where I was going anyway, so we continued. When we arrived, she asked to go back to the town we had just left. At that point I made my excuses, but she didn't get out of the car. After a lithe more conversation, she did reluctantly leave. For the next several years, I saw her occasionally, hailing rides, always in a big floppy hat and with a very determined step, but I never stopped for her again.
I am glad I stopped for both women. Their situations were different, but their needs equally urgent if of unequal clarity. Another rider whose memory I hold less benevolently flagged me down on an early morning several years ago as I drove to work. He was urgent in his need for a ride, and thinking he was probably one of the students at the college where I taught, I stopped, and he got in the front seat. He then beckoned to a friend who was hiding in the underbrush, who dashed over and got in the back seat. I had read enough mystery stories to think of kidnappings and drivers being garroted from behind, that my alarm level soared. Since I was close to school, I quickly turned in and told them that that was as far as I was going. They didn't like it, but they did get out. I am not glad that I stopped for him/them, although I must say, I was, after the fact, quite curious to know more of their stories.
So, as I sit here, happily typing with Dover dozing at my feet, I ask myself, in each case - What Would Dover Do? (WWDD?) His thoughts are less nuanced, perhaps, but I would guess that he would only stop for people carrying tennis balls that were clearly marked "FOR THE DOG;" that is how he could tell the good guys from the others. I, however, have to use different criteria, and so far my batting average is 0.667.