Nine states in to the forty-eight state volunteering adventure, I was growing accustomed to sleeping a night or two in the parking lots of Walmarts -- that was, until winter struck.
After experiencing negative twenty-six in Helena, Montana, I thought the worst was behind me. Of course, that was the farthest thing from the truth when I drove into Bismarck, North Dakota, I should have known that December weather could stop one dead in their tracks.
I sat in a coffee shop for a few hours answering emails and prepping for the coming week when I glanced at the forecast -- negative thirty all week long!
So...I enacted the emergency back-up plan: sleep in the car from 5:30p to 9:30p, then sit at an all-night diner until 7:00a, and then go sleep in my car for another couple of hours when the weather warmed up a little.
I found a spot to slumber at in the local Walmart parking lot and dozed off for about an hour until the cold was piercing through all fifteen of my pathetic layers. I tried to get comfortable but quickly realized it was a losing battle. (My eyeballs feeling solid was a good indication.)
That’s when I headed for a Denny's around 8 o'clock to continue working at the never ending pile of emails and website updates. This was a great idea except I couldn't get the wi-fi to work. So, I played a few rounds of solitary while I sipped through a pot of hot coffee, all while conversing with Hank and Henry, two guys visiting their mom/grandmother in the hospital. I gave up on getting any real work done for the night and decided to get serious with my dismal fate.
That’s when I initiated phase two of the emergency back-up plan: go buy a healthy amount of hand warmers, toe warmers, and body core warmers to see if they could keep the heat underneath my layers. I headed back to Walmart where I made the purchase of warmers along with a value pack of thermal socks thinking I could take on Mother Nature’s worst!
As I arrived at my car, there was a younger guy with a newly purchased Jeep parked next to me with his hood up. I asked if he needed a jump and he responded with an enthusiastic, "that would be great!” I drove my car around the parking lot median and squared my engine up with the twice-my- size vehicle whereby I popped the hood. It should have been a standard jump, except I'm never completely sure which one is the negative charge on my battery. (It didn't help that it was negative seven at the time and that it was a quarter to two in the morning.)
Let's just say that the first jump didn't take. I’m still not sure if the cables were cheap or if the lines were mixed up -- either way -- his jumpers were fried...literally. Plastic grips were melting and plenty of smoke/steam was coming from the connectors.
After removing the deformed cables, I took out the pair I had from my trunk and made the connection. This time, we made sure the colors matched up, and with that, came success.
During the whole ordeal, the gentleman and I began to talk about his new Jeep and about the size of the battery and about what I was doing in the state. I told him about the volunteer adventure and that I was there for just this reason, to help him (or anyone else) out.
As the conversation advance, he found out my intentions to sleep in my car for the night -- he then insisted on getting me a hotel room for the evening. I explained that I would be able to survive the night with my hand warmers and I was simply happy to help out without any need of compensation.
While shaking his head, he said, "naw...it’s no big deal. I want to help you out.” He then climbed into his Jeep and told me to follow him.
I didn’t understand what was going on, but tailed behind the now running vehicle all the way to a hotel resort a few blocks away. It turned out that his father owned the place and was able to get me a room at no cost to me or to him.
At that moment, I was drastically made aware of the old truth that kindness produces kindness, and even though my yearlong mission was to serve others, I was so thankful to receive the help of a stranger when I needed it the most.
I must admit, that night’s sleep was very sweet -- and looking back -- it might have even saved my life.
Drew Elliot, a lover of adventure and charity, volunteered for a week in each of the 48 contiguous United States while promoting a Service To Others lifestyle. He was name Reader’s Digest “2011 - Best Sojourner of the Year” and has been feature on The Huffington Post, Voice of America, and Americantowns.com with regular appearances in magazines, blogs, and television. He currently resides in Pennsylvania working on a new kindness project called “Here A Year” - www.hereayear.com.