Those metal strips (like the one pictured in this column) that lie along the pavement at a gated driveway may seem innocuous. The strips keep the gate on track as it moves to open and close the driveway. Drivers run over them all the time.
But to a disabled man in a motorized wheelchair with a battery that has run out of power, that metal guide strip might just as well have been a high mountain.
Last week I came across this situation as I was leaving a local business’ parking lot in Merced. The wheelchair bound man was stuck in the middle of the open driveway gateway. But his chair would not move.
I pulled my car off to the side and asked if he needed help. He nodded yes. I shut my car off and got out.
The chair’s battery had run out of power. It barely budged when he engaged it in the forward gear position.
The wheelchair didn’t move easily, and the disabled man probably added another 175 pounds to the total weight. The guide strip was less than two inches high; too high to just push the chair over the hump.
With a little lifting, I got the four wheels of the chair over the guide strip. But this man’s needs were by no means satisfied. I asked him if there was someplace I could take him to get the chair battery charged.
We headed to a local restaurant. I pushed the chair for about fifty feet including a slight incline to the foundation of the building. It wasn’t a great distance, but with no power to move the chair, that incline was a challenge. We went inside the restaurant and asked for a table near an electrical outlet.
We got settled into our table and I helped him plug the cord into the outlet.
“It will take about a half hour to charge,” he told me.
At this point, one could have wished him well and be on their way. I’m happy to say that thought didn’t cross my mind.
The server asked if she could bring a menu. The man answered he couldn’t afford anything. I told him I would buy his lunch.
For the next twenty minutes, we visited. He gave me his name; I gave him my name. He shook my hand several times. The lunch was brought to the table. He asked what brought me to that parking lot at that time of day. I told him I was there to run an errand during my lunch hour.
“The good Lord told me I’d be okay,” he said as I prepared to leave. “He sent you to help me.”
We parted with smiles on our faces.
I thought about his words as I headed on my way that afternoon. This visit happened out of the blue. I asked myself, “What brought me to that driveway at just the right time to be there to help someone in need?”
Like a lot of people in our community, I’m often approached by people at the gas pump or in parking lots who ask for some change or whatever I can spare.
I occasionally help out, but more often than not, I tell them no or I tell a white lie about not having anything extra to give. I often can spot someone about to make this request from another part of a parking lot, and try to not make eye contact.
This time, I had few choices. Here was a person with a problem. He didn’t ask for help. I did what I could.
That metal driveway guide kept my new friend from moving along his way that day. It was a barrier at first. But thanks to that guide, I was able to offer a helping hand.
And I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to do something.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced