Today’s edition of The New York Times contained a story about the just-completed snowpocalypse that buried a couple small states, turned off countless lights and furnaces, and stranded travelers in airports, workplaces and in their vehicles. I’m wondering why people would venture onto the roadways with the abominable snowstorm lurching steadily toward them. The advance warning was as thorough as that for any hurricane (let’s say, maybe, Hurricane Sandy).
What really generated some discussion between Mike and I, though, was the paragraph about stranded motorist Joseph Calle, who paid a total of $100 to two strangers with shovels to help dig his car out of the snow. This wasn’t a matter of Mr. Calle offering the money; the going rate for the first shovel-bearer was $40 and $60 for the second. My knee-jerk reaction was disgust that there were people profiting from the misfortune of others during essentially life-threatening circumstances. This was not like knocking on the doors of warm houses with driveways that need to be shoveled to earn some extra cash. It seems more like a guerilla emerging from the jungle offering to free only those hostages being held who could pay upfront for the privilege.
Or does it? Maybe this is more like selling cold bottled water during a hot summer festival. The patron should have brought his own water but for whatever reason didn’t, thereby creating a need fulfilled by that much-admired American entity, the spur-of-the-moment entrepreneur. A thirst is quenched, a little cash is made, and both parties are happy. Are the shovel-bearing strangers simply entrepreneurs? They seem much more like opportunists to me. I know that many people endure financial hardship daily but does that entitle anyone to benefit from another’s misfortune?
I also thought that if Mr. Calle had offered the money for the assistance, rather than having it extracted (or extorted) from him, the transaction would be more acceptable. Any number of us have done a stranger a favor, or had a stranger help us in some way, where a grateful offer of cash was made at its conclusion. Perhaps the cash was taken, perhaps not — either way, there was a choice of its exchange, not a demand.
I don’t know why Mr. Calle, or many others stuck on the Long Island Expressway, chose to drive into harm’s way. I don’t need to know why. I do know, though, that there are far more helpful and generous people than there are heartless and mean-spirited, which is what the shovel-toting guerillas seem to me to be.