“I’ve got a list of license plates,” the tow truck guy growled, “of guys who’ve flipped me off or rolled down their windows and called me names. Someday, ma’am, one of those jerks is gonna need a tow, and I’ll just let ’em sit there. “

He finished hitching up Max, my usually trusty Maxima, and started winching him in. Max’s electronics had reeled and died on a windy Portland hill after sundown, just past a busy, dark and dangerous curve. I was shivering by the time Max was finally up on his haunches and secured to the tow truck, while a long line of drivers honked and glared and inched past us.

“What is it about Portland?” he asked, “How come they’re in such a hurry they can’t wait three minutes while I help somebody? I’ve never seen a city so mean; these people are just too busy to care for anybody until THEY need help.”

“I dunno;” I said mildly, “Portland’s pretty nice–a couple of honks are tame compared to what would happen in some places I’ve lived. Where are you from?”

“Alaska,” he replied, “Hop on in and we’ll get going.” We finished up the paperwork, he reset his GPS and slipped the truck into gear. He was a nice-looking guy, mid-20s, dark-eyed and muscular. Something about him–work-hardened, chapped-red hands, or maybe the brillo-pad beard–said “mountain man.”

“Alaska,” I mused, “That might explain it. Come down here for family?”

“School,” he said, and blushed. “Stupid, huh? I came down here to study environmental management before I found out what a crock of shit that is. I wanted to manage wilderness and they wanted me to be a vegetarian and hold demonstrations. I told somebody I hunted–hell, in Alaska EVERYbody hunts–and you’da thought I was a cannibal.”

He slipped into traffic and started up the hill. “So I switched over to bridge building–you know, civil engineering. I figure I can do more good building safe bridges for the wrong side than I can waving picket signs for the right side.”

“People in Alaska,” he said reflectively, “they’re not in such a rush. They’re nice to strangers. They take their time and they say hello. They’re polite. They stop to help. Portland? Feh.”

“Portlanders are actually pretty nice,” I protested. “Now back east…I was driving down the freeway and a semi changed lanes right on top of my Corolla. Totaled it, spit it out like a watermelon seed. Four other cars hit me and bounced me down the freeway. Not one stopped. When I woke up, the Corolla was straddling the center lanes, facing oncoming traffic. First thing I saw was this lady in a Mercedes, cussing and flipping me off. I mean, she could see I couldn’t help being there, but she was flipping me off. ”

“THAT,” I said loftily, “Would never happen in Portland.”

He shook his head. “God, that makes me want to go back to Alaska. I was in a crash up there.  Blew a tire, rolled 14 times off a 16-foot drop and ended upside down in a ravine fulla water. Nothing left of that car but the roll cage.”

He stopped at the light and turned to face me. “19 cars drove past. 19 cars stopped. They winched me out of the ditch, they gave me first aid and blankets, they got me to the nearest clinic. A guy opened his lunch box and gave me his thermos of coffee. Just gave it to me.”

“I’d never seen half those guys before in my life, they didn’t know me from Adam but they stopped anyway. And you,” he reminded me, “YOU had to wait for a tow truck while all these cars just drove on by. Think about it.”

Probably wisely, I kept my mouth shut while thinking up a rejoinder. I’m still thinking.