The Kindness of Others

The first photograph I made before I realized we would need a ride home.

What started out as a short drive to the river for an after dinner Delta walk became something else altogether. As it happens, everything work out well.   

Cameras, tripod, lenses, various filters, and sundry other tools of the trade are always within reach while roaming California Delta. Such was the case last week when we rounded the bend to see sailboats coming in from an afternoon of breeze catching. Having photographed the Delta since the mid-1970’s, I tend to not get too excited when something pretty appears. It happens often, how many more pictures do I need?

In this case I saw these sailboats easing up the barely-rippled channel but I kept driving slowly down the levee while in pleasant conversation with Joanna and enjoying a general feeling that life is grand. But that little voice that only I can hear thought I should go back and shoot a few frames of the boat in the sun trail and see what happens.

Joanna is always happy for me to do that even though sometimes I feel I may be taking something away from our time together. “Absolutely,” she said enthusiastically. She’s an artist, too,  and she knows that when the muse speaks sometimes we just need to listen. Bless her heart.

So I park and ask if she is going to stay in or near the car. She wasn’t sure so I grabbed the keys. Opening the back of the SUV and hurriedly changing lenses and checking settings, I set the keys on the back deck, grabbed the camera, and proceeded to mosey around the levee’s edge making some compositions in the fast-fading light.

I had gotten some twenty or thirty yards down levee when Joanna asked how it was going. “Great,” I say.

“Good,” she says, “I locked the car.”

Oops #1 – I was wearing gym shorts that had no pockets – the reason I left the keys beside my camera bag in the car. There was a split second that I thought, ‘…good going…’ just before the realization that I had not communicated to her that I didn’t have the keys when I headed down the levee.

We are about three miles from home, not that big a deal, really. But our phones were in the car so we couldn’t call anyone. I don’t know about you, but the days of knowing everyone’s phone number by heart are long gone. Even if we could borrow someones phone, then what? Guess at my daughter’s number? Or anyone else who could possibly help? So that’s out. Now what?

OK, let’s hitch a a short ride back home. It’s not far, what could go wrong?

The first vehicle to come along was a well-worn Toyota pickup. This little truck had seen better days many years ago, yet it was still in service. I stick my thumb up in the air, the universal ‘please help’ sign. The very nice young man stopped and we told him our problem. “Hop in!” Judging by the materials, paperwork, and tools that filled both the cab and the bed of this small work-truck, he worked in the building trades. After a minute or two of him making room in the cab for both of us we headed for home.

In our short conversation he mentioned that sometimes he just likes to stop at the river on his way home and do a little fishing to unwind. Lucky for us. 

Oops #2 – Long ago I had placed a hidden key in a secret spot, which I had not checked on in years. Of course the key wasn’t there.

The sun is going down fast while an occasional mosquito tries to get a meal at our expense in our own front yard. We borrow our neighbors phone, call my daughter’s workplace and asked her boss to have her call us. Daughter quickly calls back and says she would LOVE to help but she is in Los Angeles apartment hunting in preparation for moving in July. Bummer, now what?

Joanna brainstorms that our other neighbor is a car buff and maybe he could help us unlock our car. Across the street we trundle, my tail between my legs not wanting a) to bother our nice neighbor, and b) to admit my lapse of judgement in not keeping my keys with me and periodically checking on the hideout house key. Bingo! Our neighbor, Rick, says he is not a thief but he does know how to get into a car if necessary. What a guy! Joanna visits with his wife while he and I go out to the now-dark levee armed with a couple flashlights and the necessary heavy-duty wire coat hanger.

A couple minutes later I’m following Rick back home filled with gratitude. I always liked that guy; he’s always glad to quit yard work long enough to chat and to show me his latest car project which always begins as a junk Oldsmobile that he brings back to life to better-than-factory specs. You ought to see these beauties when he is done with them. He has a band, too, and they’re good. What’s not to like?

Along with sincere thank-you’s I told Rick he’s not only my Rock Star but now he is my Rock Star Hero.

As mentioned above, there’s a happy ending. It’s good to be able to rely on the kindness of a passing stranger, the kindness of the next door neighbor who was willing to lend her phone that was down to thirteen percent of battery, and the kindness of my Rock Star Hero-neighbor.

Whenever I see these photographs of sailboats slowly making way upstream to safe harbor I will be reminded of the kindness of others and the beauty of our California Delta. 

Steps have been taken so this will never happen again. I’ll always wear pants with pockets. I’m keeping my keys with me when leaving the car, and I’ve hid a key somewhere outside of the house where I won’t forget. Right…

I couldn’t resist one last shot of the meandering sailors before trying to flag down a ride home. All’s well that ends well, as the saying goes.


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    • Thanks, Erik! Certainly lessons learned, both in keeping my keys with me and that most people are ready, even eager, to help. Oh, yeah, pants with pockets a must…

  • Rich I love the delta photos and the story makes it extra special. Stockton and our people living here and around us make it very unique and special.

    • Thanks, Steven. I’ve live in this area since the mid 70’s and even though I’ve had opportunities to leave I have stayed put. I agree with you that the region and its people are unique for sure.

  • LOL…we are kindred. Some day I’ll tell you the tale of how my car keys went down into the septic at an isolated ski resort.

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