Yesterday I had some work north of the river, and found myself trapped in the traffic glacier that is the local freeways during the evening rush hour. A couple of miles south of the Columbia, traffic came to a complete halt. In time, I saw why. A car had stalled in such a way as to block two of the three lanes, forcing three densely packed lanes to divert into one and a half. When I rolled up on the car, my first thought was to see if the driver was still with the car, and get it out of the road. Another gentleman pulled up on the shoulder, apparently with the same thought.
The very upset driver got out immediately on seeing us approach. I’d probably be upset too, if my car had died and blocked a very busy highway during rush hour. The shoulder at that part of the freeway is not quite a car-width wide, and hard by a retaining wall, but we put the car as close to the wall as we could, which was a much better situation than had existed. I had a job to get to, and the other man stayed with the driver.
Pretty routine stuff, right? Except, apparently, it wasn’t. This incident didn’t take place on some deserted highway in the middle of the night. The distressed driver was blocking two of three lanes on a freeway during a weekday rush hour in a mid-size American city. I don’t know how long she was stuck, but it’s likely several hundred people had to drive around her. The fact that she was still in the middle of road when I and other gentleman pulled up says that not one person stopped and helped her get out of the road.
What the hell? I’d think that if for no other reason than self-interest, a person might stop and see if the car could be moved. Then there’s what used to be called common decency; where one person might see if the could help another. I find it improbable that every person on that stretch of road at that time had obligations so pressing they couldn’t be bothered to stop for a few minutes.
This incident took place in Portland, Oregon, a town that prides itself on its blue-green credentials, and its compassionate nature. Yet in a situation where people had to make a choice between getting involved and ignoring the problem, a lot of Portlanders were ignorant. I don’t know why so many people refused to help, but I do know this:
Portlanders aren’t as good as they think they are.