My pick for society's MVP

If you were going to lead a space expedition to find a new planet and create a better civilization, who would you pick for the crew? Most people would probably give priority to teachers, scientists, and engineers. Those occupations are important, but I would reserve at least one spot on my team for a tow-truck driver.

I realize there won't be a big need for roadside assistance on such a journey. But after years of observing American culture becoming more cynical and self-absorbed, I'm convinced that tow-truck drivers are a vital link in the human chain that holds our society together. We expect them to restore order and tranquility in situations fraught with anxiety and confusion. It's a job that requires technical skill, patience, stamina, and diplomacy.

Their role in my life has been expanding since I stopped doing basic car maintenance. Knowledge gained from high school auto shop in 1968 is mostly obsolete. There has also been a steady acceleration of tune-up specialists and other quickie-stops that provide convenient service for tires, windshield wipers, and everything in between. With so much automotive talent available, I seldom get my fingers greasy anymore.

So I didn't panic when the pickup I recently borrowed from my father-in-law suddenly went inert. It had been running fine when I pulled up to the pet supply shop. But after purchasing a badly needed sack of kitty kibbles, turning the ignition key produced nothing but silence. The headlights and radio were also unresponsive.

I looked at the sky. One thing I've never forgotten from my flying saucer research in sixth grade is that cars often quit when a UFO is hovering overhead. Movie fans may recall Richard Dreyfuss experiencing such an incident in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

As always, nothing was floating overhead, and when I called the AAA I didn't mention the ET factor. Since this was all happening at 5 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday, I expected a long wait.

But the tow-truck driver appeared within 30 minutes, lifted the hood, and instantly noticed the battery terminals were encrusted with yucky gray powder.

"There's your problem," he said, and quickly scraped the terminals clean with a tool that resembled a shaving brush with wire bristles. He also assured me that it wasn't the dumbest emergency he'd handled that day.

"Hey, I needed a break," he chuckled. "Rush hour in the rain can get pretty crazy." And away he went to the next call.

Yes, if I had a rocket full of such mediators, we'd surely create a galactic utopia. Aliens welcome, too!

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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