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The Tire Iron and the Tamale by Justin Horner

This powerful story by Justin Horner of Portland, Oregon appeared in the Lives section of the New York Times.  Hope it makes everyone look at the people around us with more tolerant eyes and think twice about looking away when someone is in need.

The Tire Iron and the Tamale
By JUSTIN HORNER

During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

Justin Horner is a graphic designer living in Portland, Ore. This essay was adapted from a message-board posting on reddit.com.

 

For more on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.

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Acid Attacks Hit Home

NOTE: THE ACID ATTACK IN OREGON TURNED OUT TO BE A SELF-INFLICTED HOAX.

In recent days there have been two brutal acid attacks against women in the United States, one in Oregon and one in Arizona.  Many of you have read the story I wrote about a courageous acid attack victim from Kampala, Uganda named Juliette on this blog.  HDNet’s World Report aired an “in her own words” piece about Juliette that I produced for the show on April 14, 2009.  It is a very powerful story and Juliette’s ability to forgive her attacker and move on is inspirational.  We saw her again when we were in Uganda this past summer. She is now a mother of two children and despite her injuries she is still beautiful and trying to make the most of her life. I hope you are as transformed by Juliette’s story as I was and as horrified by this unbelieveable terrorism against women, not only in the developing world but also here at home.  We cannot let the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.  If we cry loud enough we can prevent more women like Juliette from becoming victims of this terrible violence.

http://vimeo.com/5703299

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Greyhound Bus to Vancouver

This blog was born so that I could post to my friends, family and anyone else interested from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Now on the eve of 2010 Olympics, as I prepare to board an airplane for British Columbia, I find myself blogging again and reflecting on the only other time I was in Vancouver. I was 10 years old and my great uncle Jacques, who lived in Canada, was getting married. My great grandmother, Daisy Peraya, would not fly on a plane so four generations boarded a Greyhound Bus in Long Beach, California and spent the next 36 hours heading up the coast to Vancouver.

I am certain that this is where the seeds of my wanderlust were planted. I loved looking out the windows at the rugged coast and pulling into Oregon and Washington bus stations at 3 in the morning.  I was mesmerized by the people along the way with character written on their faces and smoke coming out of their mouths.  More than anything else I loved talking to the teenage girls in the back row. They regaled me with the stories about running away, sex, boyfriends and bad behavior. I was flattered that they would tell me secrets only older kids knew.  I aspired to be free just like them. 

I don’t really remember much about the wedding. My most vivid memory of Vancouver was going with a 17 year old distant relative/hottie named Boris to the Pacific National Exhibition. The PNE was a huge provincial fair and I developed the biggest crush on Boris as we were hurtling down the largest roller coaster I had ever dared to ride.   I literally “fell” in love.  I’m certain the Olympics in Vancouver will be another great adventure and I will do my best to share them on this blog.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Cons Cashing In

Dave Dahl sits in the living room playing guitar and singing songs about justice and the lack of it.  He was in the slammer off and on for 15 years for dealing meth and assorted other felonies.  Now he is working and relishing his second chance.  Four years ago, Dave Dahl returned to the family bakery in Portland, Oregon and is the face and story behind Dave’s Killer Bread which is a huge hit in the Pacific Northwest. 

In Chicago a group of ex-cons are getting a second chance at a fast food restaurant called Felony Franks.  They are grateful that someone gave them jobs and don’t really understand why there is a ruckus over the name.  Jim Andrews who owns the hot dog stand thinks people who are threatening to shut the place down just don’t want felons in the neighborhood.  The homeowners say they think the name is disrespectful, racist, and reminds people of what the West Side used to be like.

Ex-cons are not a circle of people I am usually in contact with but I was impressed by their honesty, their ambition, their desire to contribute.  They want to work and be integrated into society again.  These are stories of redemption and rehabilitation and as HDNet’s World Report discovered some cons are using their pasts to cash in and create a much brighter future for themselves and their families.

Cons Cashing In from Vicky Collins on Vimeo.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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What I Learned from Ex-Cons

They were sitting in the living room playing guitars and singing songs about justice and the lack of it.  They had taught themselves to play in prison and they were good.  Dave was in the slammer off and on for 15 years for dealing meth and assorted other felonies.  Ladd served 20 years for being an accessory to murder.  They met in prison and stayed friends on the outside.  They were both working and relishing their second chances.  This time they swear they won’t throw their lives away.

Over the past week I have had a chance to meet several ex-cons who have been blessed with a second chance.  Dave Dahl returned to the family bakery in Portland, Oregon and is the face and story behind Dave’s Killer Bread which has taken off in the Pacific Northwest.  Dave has become a celebrity and his bread is flying off the shelf.  Ladd works in the bakery store.  He is also a face to the public.  For whatever bad judgements they made back then they are contributing members of society now.

In Chicago a group of ex-cons are getting a second chance at a fast food restaurant called Felony Franks.  They are grateful that someone gave them jobs and don’t really understand why there is ruckus over the name.  Jim Andrews who owns the place says his hot dog stand is bringing more prosperity to the neighborhood and is cutting down on crime.  He thinks people who are threatening to shut him down just don’t want felons in the neighborhood.  The homeowners say they think the name is disrespectful, racist, and reminds people of what the West Side used to be like.  They would rather people see a gentrified, changing community.

This is not a circle of people I am usually in contact with but I was impressed by their honesty, their ambition, their desire to contribute.  We need to figure out ways to integrate former felons into society again.  Otherwise there are no options but to continue lives of crime which victimize people in society.  Of course not all are worthy and some crimes are too heinous to forgive but if the men I met are an example there are many more stories of redemption and rehabilitation waiting to be told.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.