I currently live in the town of Cary, North Carolina, which is known, for one, as a bedroom community for our more famous neighbors in the Research Triangle: Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. The Triangle is one of the premier high-tech centers of the country, but I contend that even so this part of North Carolina has not entirely lost the feel and texture of the South I knew while growing up in Alabama. Now, Cary itself has also acquired another reputation as the “Containment Area for Retired Yankees.” (Or, is it “runaway” Yankees?) Not entirely off point, but not entirely fair, as I will endeavor to show.

A recent essay on the Abbeville Institute site by John Slaughter lamented the slow—or not so slow—passing of the South he once knew, under the influence of technological, industrial development in the two afore-named states and elsewhere. What I want to offer here, however, is a story that illustrates that the South Mr. Slaughter and I both knew has not entirely disappeared. It is a South, I contend, where manners and kindness to strangers, for instance, still obtain.

One fine morning during the pandemic I set out driving to the first of two doctors appointments, a factor that  has some bearing on what happened on the way. The entire chain of events was, it seems to me in retrospect, to be utterly amazing but quite ordinary at the same time. You’ll see what I mean in a New York minute.

I headed south on Harrison Avenue, then jogged over to Kildaire Farm Road to the first appointment on Cary Parkway about six miles from home. As I approached Maynard Road (running east-west at that point), the driver of the car behind me pulls over to the left lane alongside me and blows his horn. The traffic light having turned red, we are both stopped at the intersection of Kildaire and Maynard. I roll my window down to see what he wants. Through his passenger window he tells me that my back rear tire is low.

I wave a thanks to him, and after the light changes, he goes on his way and  I turn into a BP station at the southwest corner of the same intersection and pull up to the air hose to check the tire and fill it up so I can get to the first appointment. The air hose requires quarters; I ask the attendant for change for a ten, but they have no quarters. (The pandemic had eaten them, along with a lot of other coins.) But she refers me to the Snappy Lube immediately adjacent to the BP. She said they pump up tires for free.

So I move the car over to that location and tell them my problem with the tire and mention that I have to get to medical appointments. One of the attendants fills up the sagging tire to 40 pounds and begins examining it with her flashlight, shortly finding a thin piece of metal embedded in it. She advises taking the tire to a tire store and not removing the fragment yet. And indeed, they charge nothing for the service.

Thanking her, I head on to the first doctor appointment, and when I get there check the tire and see that it is still pumped up. On leaving about 30 minutes later, I check it again and head to my second appointment on Regency Parkway a few miles further south and west, thinking on the way that I might have to call AAA once I get there, or perhaps after the appointment. There’s no way to know how long the tire will stay inflated.

But when that appointment is over, I check the tire again, and it is still pumped up. So I head home, and when I get near, at Harrison and Maynard, I pull into the Discount Tire store and tell a service writer what the situation is and ask him to take a look. About an hour or so later, the car is ready, and there’s no charge for the repair. He adds, “Next time you need tires, keep me in mind.” So I thank them and head home. (And I did in fact later become a paying customer for other services.)

This whole chain of events has a number of takeaway’s, as it seems to me. The first is the extraordinary beginning where the fellow driver spotted the low tire and went out of his way to alert me. It tells me, for one thing, that in the South we tend to look out for other people—and not just “our own.” I imagine that if one encountered, let’s say, 1,000 people on the road over a span of several months, probably no more than 1 or 2 of that 1,000 would even notice a low tire on another car, let alone bother to let another driver know about it. And if we—the aforementioned gentleman and I in this case—hadn’t had to stop for a light, he wouldn’t have been able to alert me.

And then there’s the attendant at the BP station who referred me to the Snappy Lube next door to them.

And then, of course, there’s the attendant at Snappy Lube who both filled the tire and located the problem with the tire, gratis.

And not least is the manager of the Discount Tire store who fixed the tire for free. It was a good-will gesture out of self-interest, perhaps, but a good-will gesture nevertheless.

Now, all of these people represent the new industrialized, commercial South in one way or another, but they are also representatives of the South that both Mr. Slaughter and I knew as young men. A south marked by good manners, decency, and the habit of looking out for others and not expecting a quick return for every good turn you have the privilege to offer.

My encounters with all of these people that day inspired in me an attitude of gratitude for their helping me get through a somewhat trying morning.

Later, I went back by each place with a box of candy in hand personally to thank each of the individuals in person, that is the ones in the various service businesses.

But the one person I cannot, and will not be able to, thank properly is the fellow driver who set off the whole chain of events both by his keen observation and by his reaching out. He, of course, is the most important player of all in this ordinary-extraordinary little drama. All of the participants represent, of course, the kindness of strangers to strangers. Is it possible to find them elsewhere? In Ohio, in Illinois? Of course. But I found them here, in Cary, North Carolina, which despite its checkered reputation is still part of the South I still know and love.

I would add that the series of events I have related here is also evidence of the mysterious working of Providence in the world, an operation that has many players in varied parts, in different places and times. We have only to pay careful attention in order to observe it.

Mr. Slaughter writes, “the backroads, the pecan orchards, cattle farms, and rustic tractors . . . are more than mere scenic beauty – they are symbols of our identity, our roots, and the very essence of who we are as Southerners.” I would not presume to argue against the value of those things. We do need the physical, tangible reminders—the imagery—of what is dear to us. But I would contend that my experience that day manifests in another way—rare though it may have been in the scheme of things—what is valuable in the South that I knew as a boy in Alabama and that I still see here and there even today. Even in Cary, North Carolina.

Which by the way is named after a Union General and temperance leader from Ohio. But he’s dead now, and besides I don’t want to hold a grudge at this late date. I may even raise a glass.

Thomas Hubert

Thomas H. Hubert, a native of Tennessee who grew up in Alabama, is a retired scholar, poet, and business person living near Raleigh, North Carolina. He received a Ph. D. in English from the University of Georgia in 1975 with a concentration in American literature; his dissertation was on Allen Tate’s poetry. During the academic phase of his career, he taught at universities in the south and midwest.


  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    I am a Southerner by birth (Mississippi) and have lived as one all my life (Texas now). By the time I read through the fourth paragraph of your article I knew what the thread would be. I really believe, as well, that most Southerners spotted what would be your niche revelation.
    I also believe that Providence uses the little things in life to display the big picture.
    Thanks for your efforts, Sir.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    In my part of Florida, there is a joke…”how many men are needed to change a tire in Bay County?”

    Two. One to change the tire and another to stand out on the road and say, “No it’s ok, we don’t need help, thank you.”

    Just try changing a flat tire solo around my neck of the woods. It is IMPOSSIBLE for a female to change a tire in the Panhandle.

    They’re not perfect…but in an emergency, even one as small at a flat tire, the love flows.

    I was first on the scene when two black ladies in a small car tried cutting in front of a fuel tanker which was doing 40 mph. I was just behind the truck. The splintered telephone pole they were crushed against haunts the intersection still to this day. The car was mangled badly. I could get to the women but was going to need a strong hand and the jaws of life to get them out. I turned around (from half-way inside of the car) and from nowhere, a dozen people had materialized and more were coming. One lady was dead and one was barely conscious, both inside the car…people were praying for them outside the car. I was finally “outranked” and replaced by the third person to attempt to do so…she was an ER nurse. She agreed the second lady should not be moved…they were trying to get into a gas station and I could see the tank was on empty…you know how people are afraid of cars exploding after a wreck. I was going to cut their seatbelts away but put up my knife when I could tell they weren’t belted in. Bad decision to not wear a seatbelt, folks…though it probably wouldn’t have saved them. There wasn’t a drop of blood. One died immediately of a broken neck…the other, later of internal injuries.

    We have been thru much excitement, here in the Panhandle. We SHOULD have PTSD…instead we swarm others in need. Maybe that is how we deal with our trauma. I hope it’s not just here…maybe people EVERYWHERE are coming out of their shells…WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER…even the yankees.

    Oh, and by the way…the only people in the above story who were black were the two deceased. We don’t look at color when responding to an accident around here…even those of us who fly battle flags for those we love and in defiance of those who hate us.

    Thanks for the story.

    • Justin says:

      Thank you so much for your story, as sad it was. However, that story contains much happenstance Providence for me as I am a Florida native currently in Central Florida who is half heartedly looking for property in Bay County as a huge coincidence. Your story has motivated me to look more full heartedly now.
      We just might end up being neighbors soon?

  • Julie Paine says:

    I think this kindness is still present in many people and places, but I would have to say that Southerners have a unique level and style, and it is beautiful to experience firsthand. Great story!

  • Ashley Shea Legg says:

    I live in the Hudson River Valley, New York. I was born in South Carolina and spent my first 32 years in the South (South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri and met my husband in Texas). Now, at age 47 I am looking to move back for many reasons but this level of kindness and concern is definitely not prevalent in my neck of the woods here and recently it has become my driving force for high tailing it outta here. I so appreciate all of you for helping me to glorify in my southern pride and articulate and make sense of my loss and confusion. Thank you Abbeville Institute!

  • Frank Young says:

    I am a retired surgeon who spent 13 years in USAF and then eventually retired from the local Air Guard Fighter Squadron here in SC I am 90 years old and frequently wear a USAF or SCANG cap I don’t use a cane or other aide but I am slightly bent . The folks here in Tractor supply, or Lowes , Publix etc will not let me lift or carry anything heavier than a loaf of bread, all are so helpful. When I was younger I would do the same . We were taught that way. Please teach your children and grands to do the same.
    Thankful to have been born in the South

  • Jeremy says:

    This is so true. I am from Alabama but live in Wyoming now. Two fairly rural settings, yet very different. I just stopped for a grain truck a few minutes ago, to ask if he was ok. There was no traffic. No danger. He said “I’m alright…go on,” in a grumpy tone. Some are ok with it, but most are offended if you offer help, and it’s rare to have strangers that are willing to help. That being said, there are a few who shine like a beacon in the night with their kindness and generosity. Those gems are few and far between, but amazing people to meet.

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