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A flat tire and unexpected hero at a Bluffton gas station taught me a lesson in kindness

Today I was reminded of the importance of kindness.

I woke up early, eager for Tuesday’s election.

I drove to my polling place, the Rotary Community Center in Bluffton, before the sun was fully up and cast my vote.

To celebrate, I headed to Old Town to get a pumpkin pie chai latte before heading to work.

Delicious.

With my blue “I voted” sticker on my sweater and coffee in my hand, I got into my Jeep on Calhoun Street and hit the road, surprisingly ahead of schedule.

Then, one of my biggest fears struck.

Thump.

Thump.

Thump.

My steering wheel was pulling toward the right, and my car was making an atrocious sound.

Even as someone who knows little to nothing about cars, I had no doubt that something was wrong.

I pulled into the Parker’s gas station at May River and Buck Island roads, dialing my stepdad and fighting tears.

My back right tire was as flat as a box-mix pancake.

Panic set in, and the flood gates opened.

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Flat tire Lana Ferguson Staff Photo

That’s when I noticed a man standing on the sidewalk between the gas station and my Jeep.

He was wearing a bright orange work vest with the name Ocean Woods Landscaping on the back, a khaki bucket hat to keep out the rain, and work boots, holding his lunch and his water bottle in one hand.

“You OK?” he asked, looking toward my flat tire.

“Yes,” I lied.

Without hesitation, he walked toward me and asked if I had a spare.

“Yes,” I said again, lifting the back hatch to show him.

I tried getting the spare out myself, struggling, and that’s when he started working his magic.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Lana. What’s yours?”

“Johnnie.”

He set his things down on the ground and pulled the spare out with ease.

With quick hands and obvious experience, he lifted my car with the jack and swapped the tires — exchanging small talk with me while he did, mentioning he was a big South Carolina Gamecock fan because he’s from Columbia, but has been living in the Bluffton area since 1991.

I told him I went to Ole Miss, but I’d gladly root for USC this weekend.

He smiled and continued to work.

“You can tell I’ve done this a few times before,” he laughed, screwing the last lug nut on moments later.

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Spare tire Lana Ferguson Staff Photo

He put the old tire in the back of my car and left almost as quickly as he appeared.

“Have a good day,” he said, running toward his ride to work.

“Thank you,” I uttered again and again.

Today, Johnnie was my hero.

He saw a stranger obviously distraught and helped.

He didn’t know me. He was on his way to work. He had nothing to gain from changing my tire. He could have continued walking, and made it to work in plenty of time.

But instead, he stopped. He was kind. He used his skills to help a stranger.

I don’t know if I’ll ever cross paths with Johnnie again —or if we would have met had my tire not gone flat — but I’m glad it did.

In our short interaction, I learned a few things, including how to change a tire, but more importantly how to be a good neighbor.

We need more people like Johnnie in the world.

Lana Ferguson has reported on a smorgasbord of news for The Island Packet & Beaufort Gazette since June 2018. Before coming to the Lowcountry, she worked for publications in her home state of Virginia and graduated from the University of Mississippi, where she was editor of the college’s daily newspaper.
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