I was committing what I’m certain should be a ticketed traffic offense. I was driving while dreaming.
On a sunny August afternoon on Coldwater Canyon Drive, my head was in the clouds, my eyes were all over the map, I was flying down a hill, and I did not immediately pick up the car that had suddenly stopped in front of me.
I jerked my head forward just in time to see a set of glowing brake lights. I immediately swerved to the left to avoid a full collision, clipped a back fender, and went skidding across into the lane of oncoming traffic.
Miraculously, there was an empty space between cars. I zoomed through it just ahead of a barreling truck, then screeched off the road and up into a sandy embankment where I plowed into a pile of dirt and brush.
I was ashamed, I was shaken, and I soon realized I was stuck. My door was buried in the sand and wouldn’t open. I was too sore to climb across and out of the passenger door. My phone had flown somewhere into the backseat.
I sat there for few minutes, my damaged car creaking, heat growing, panic rising, when suddenly he appeared.
He looked like a business executive in his early 40s. He was wearing a dress shirt and slacks that were getting caked in dirt. He was tapping on my window.
“Are you OK? Lemme get you out!”
Before I could respond, this ordinary looking man became the most amazing of athletes. He pried open my door, lifted me out of the car, helped me walk to the side of the road, then did something even more supernatural.
He disappeared. By the time I found my footing and turned to thank him, he was gone. Amid the zooming traffic and blowing dust, he just vanished. Where did he come from? How did he leave? I still have no idea.
This hero was one of the people most deserving of my gratitude in 2017, yet I never even knew his name, and this week it got me thinking.
The Thanksgiving spirit, while decorated in loved ones, is rooted in strangers. Don’t we all have contact with someone who enriches our lives without us knowing their names? They help us, they inspire us, they momentarily connect with us, and they ask for nothing in return, our human blessings.
Over the years, we come to know some of them well. We hug them and call them by their first names, they become our friends. Many others, because of time and circumstance, we never know.
While we probably utter a “Thank you so much’’ or “Appreciate it’’ to these kind folks every day, this is a good time to let them know they are not strangers at all.
In my little Los Angeles sports neighborhood, they are everywhere.
Thanks to the security guard at the Coliseum who recently accompanied me to a distant parking lot and helped me find my car after a Rams game. It was late, he was ready to clock out, he could have just verbally directed me, but he insisted on walking with me, a small thing, a huge thing.
Thanks to the worker who has stood at the same cash register and taken my same order at the Staples Center McDonald’s for years. She is always smiling, always fast, and hands me my sweet tea with a pleasant, “Enjoy the game.” She knows nobody enjoys every game. She says it anyway.
Thanks to the attendant at the Pauley Pavilion press room who waits forever for this slow-poke columnist to finish his story. The arena will empty, the press room will empty except for me, and then I’ll see her, sitting in the corner, patiently waiting to make sure I don’t get locked in or out. I know she wants to get home to her family. I know the overtime pay probably isn’t worth it. But she’s there anyway, forever standing sentry to a stranger.
Thanks to the Rose Bowl guard who scans my credential and looks up at me like I’m his oldest friend. When you hear folks say that coming to the Rose Bowl is like coming home, that’s what they mean.
Thanks for the Dodger Stadium guard who, while I’m going through the usual screening process upon entering the stadium, will joyfully ask about my day. She comments on the weather and the matchup and the pending excitement, and suddenly I’m reminded that this job of watching baseball games is surely the best one on Earth.
Thanks to the cafeteria worker in The Times building who always makes my panini before I leave for games. I’m always rushing, but he slows me down with jokes and chatter that I’ll remember while I’m scarfing down his masterpiece in the second quarter or fourth inning.
Thanks to the UPS driver who always shouts something smart about the Lakers while running back to the truck after dropping off some credentials. Thanks to the gas station owner who comes out to me while I’m painfully filling it up and kindly gives me the local sports buzz.
And, thanks, finally, to all the readers who come up and say hello when they see me on a concourse or a field or a parking lot.
They never ask for anything. They only want to give something, offering their hand or their opinion or their advice.