Half an hour into my ride this afternoon I passed two young girls, maybe third grade, fidgeting with one of their bikes on the sidewalk. In just a glance I immediately knew the trouble. One of their pedals was off and they were trying to screw it back in, but I could see it was the left side pedal and, since those are reverse threaded, I knew they'd never get it. I turned around to help them and as I got closer they flagged me over to stop. By the time I got there they'd already stripped the starter threads on the pedal, not enough to ruin the pedal, but enough so that I couldn't thread it with my bare hands. They ended up having to walk their bikes home.
First, I love any real human interaction with strangers. When you think about it, outside of work, there's very little. And when it's helping someone, well, that's a bonus. But what struck me about this afternoon was it was clear these girls had been there for a decent while and I was the first one to stop and help. I know for sure that plenty of the trucks that had passed and continued to pass while I was there would have had a 15 mm or at least an adjustable wrench to get that pedal back on, but none of them stopped and what's more, the girls didn't bother flagging down a one of them. Perhaps the taboo surrounding other people's children could explain why no one stopped. And perhaps the fear of some bristled hillbilly in a dually explains why the girls didn't flag anyone down.
I think, even more insurmountable than cultural fears and awkwardness, is that a person on a bike is seen as a cyclist--a type of person--and a person in a car is seen as a car--not a person. Like the rhyme of the ancient mariner, "water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink," when you're in trouble on the side of the road, even though you're surrounded by many people in their cars, you're alone.
My wife tells me that's why we have cell phones. That she's right doesn't make me wish any less that there were more people about.