Southern hospitality is a real thing
If you’re ever driving through Tennessee and need some help, you’d be lucky if it happens in Crossville, population about 11,000. They have some awfully nice people there.
Kathy and I on Monday were heading home from a two-week East Coast auto trip where we sponged off family and friends in Washington, Williamsburg and Raleigh. By mid-afternoon we had just crossed the North Carolina/Tennessee state line, heading west to a motel in Clarksville, Tenn., north of Nashville.
Suddenly in our middle lane on Highway 40, with trucks to our right and left, I spotted a sizable iron object just ahead. To me, it appeared to be about 12 inches square. Kathy estimated it at 15.
It must have fallen off a vehicle ahead of us. Trucks had enough clearance not to be bothered by it. But my Chevy Impala wasn’t so lucky. I couldn’t avoid it. We heard a very loud bang and a tremendous bump on the bottom of our car.
We immediately looked back in our rearview mirrors to see if we were trailing fluid leaks, but there were none, and the car’s performance didn’t seem any different.
“Whew,” I thought, “we dodged a bullet.”
But we hadn’t.
About an hour later, I pulled off at the first exit at Crossville to fill up our gas tank at a convenience store. Approaching the pump, I heard something dragging beneath the chassis.
I got out and looked under the car. A metal sheet had broken loose on one end and was scraping the concrete.
Not being a gearhead of any stripe, I had no idea what it was. Was it incapacitating? Would we be stranded in Crossville for a few days while a garage had to order the replacement part?
That’s when the locals sprang into action.
A gentleman who had also stopped for gas asked if I needed some help.
Well, yeah, I did.
He got down on his back and crawled as far as he could under the car. With some difficulty he was able to bend the damaged metal sheet back up off the ground a few inches, but there was no assurance it would stay there.
So I pulled the car away from the pump and over in front of the convenience store, took off my sweater and prepared to sneak under the car myself to take a closer look. That’s when the second Samaritan suddenly appeared.
He was an older guy, and thinner than the first one (and me). He was able to get all the way under the chassis, and when he came out, he suggested that he take one of the bungee cords from his pickup bed and use it to hook up the fallen end of the metal sheet. I readily agreed, and he got it done.
He wouldn’t take any money for the bungee cord. I finally was able to stuff a few bucks down his shirt pocket, but he was reluctant to accept anything.
Like the first guy, he was also local. I asked him if he knew of a repair shop that might have a lift where a mechanic could assess the situation.
He said that at the next interstate exit, two miles down the road, there was a tire store to the left, about 200 yards ahead. We followed his directions. The friendly manager there said he didn’t have a hoist, but the company’s headquarters store downtown had one:
“Turn left out of our drive and get in the left lane. Go to the second stoplight, turn left and get in the righthand lane. Turn right at the next corner and go to the end of the street. Our store is right there.”
And it was. I explained to the friendly manager there what my problem was. He said they’d take care of it for me — not to worry.
He drove our car around to the service bay, put it up on the hoist and reassured me that we had nothing to worry about. Bingo.
The metal plate was the heat shield for the muffler.
“No problem. We’ll just unscrew the remaining fastener, put the thing in your trunk and you’re all set. When you get home, just have someone get some new screws and reattach it. No need to buy a new one.”
And of course, like the bungee cord guy, he refused to take any money. I insisted, and he finally relented.
He was right. We drove on to Clarksville, got a good night’s sleep and got back home about 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
It was the kind of treatment I was used to getting in Jefferson under similar circumstances, and from periodic letters to the editor in The Jefferson Herald, I know travelers here have been thankful for that, too.
It’s nice to run into that kind of help elsewhere, but I shouldn’t have been surprised.
There are lots of nice folks in this country.