We'd like to think that if a life-or-death situation landed at our feet, some magic adrenaline monster inside us would step forward to save the day. Like we'd turn into the Hulk, but without the greenness, anger, or shredded denim. The reality, of course, is that the vast, vast majority of people stand around and stare, muttering something about waiting for help to come along.
So let's once again stop and salute the nobodies who stepped up in the face of disaster when no one else would.
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Gary Wilson: mysterious drifter bound for Memphis. Truck stop vagrant or angel? You be the judge after you hear what he did.
Despite having two mannish names, Keaton Mason was a woman, and more pertinent to this story, a pregnant woman in labor. She was on her way to the hospital with her fiance when the baby decided a truck stop was just as good as a hospital to get born in (babies are pretty stupid). This particular baby came out in the usual way -- via stork exiting the vagina carrying a baby -- but she wasn't breathing, because the umbilical cord was wrapped around her neck. That's bad news anywhere, but at a truck stop, it's kind of the worst.
If they'd just kept going to the next stop ...
Despite having just given birth to a new person, Mason had the strength and good sense to scream for help while her husband-to-be dialed 911. Surely among the worldly drivers and good time girls standing idly by there would be someone who knew what to do -- and there was. A long-haired, bearded man holding a sign that said "Memphis" came forward. The sign wasn't just a trendy suggestion for the new baby's name, it was Gary Wilson's hopeful destination.
"Coincidentally, I was going there for baby back ribs."
While everyone else was freaking the hell out, Wilson freed the cord from the girl's neck and began to rub her back. The first one seemed intuitive, but how did he know to rub her back to get her breathing? Magic? Was he Jesus? Eventually, Gary "Jesus" Wilson took over the 911 call and talked to the dispatcher directly, receiving directions on how to cut and tie off the umbilical cord and get the baby's college fund all set up. For his trouble, the truck stop gave Wilson a meal and a place to sleep. But he was gone by the next morning, taken back up to heaven. Or in the back of a pickup to Memphis, whatever.
Like Michael Landon, but with more hobo stink.
Laurie Ann Eldridge was a 39-year-old single mom working on her front yard garden when she noticed something weird -- her daffodils were blooming early. Also, there was a car stuck on the railroad track near her house. In the car was an elderly woman who thought she was on the road to the mall 60 miles away.
In the same moment that Eldridge noticed Angeline Pascucci stuck on the track, she heard the unmistakable wail of a train coming from around the bend. Suddenly, this peaceful gardening moment was a cliche scene in a terrible action movie. Thanks to the turn in the track, the engineer couldn't see the car stuck on the rails, and Pascucci obviously wasn't in charge of her faculties at that second. So the only person who knew a gruesome tragedy was about to strike was Eldridge.
"It was just like that Denzel Washington movie with the train, Training Day."
It's important to know that Eldridge had a disabling back injury and hadn't run in 10 years, but she sure as hell didn't have enough time to skip her way over to Pascucci -- instinct kicked in, and Eldridge ran. Barefoot. Double unfortunately, Pascucci was so disoriented that this frantic gardener must have looked like a big city carjacker to her, and she wouldn't budge from her soon-to-be demolished car. Would you, if you thought the Sears Elderly Woman's Department was only a few minutes away? Of course not, which was why Eldridge had to reach through the car window, unlock the door, and wrestle the old lady out of her car. The two rolled down an embankment like mismatched lovers in a romantic comedy.
The train came by soon after and slammed the car clear off the tracks. Pascucci was unhurt and presumably grateful. Or confused as shit. Eldridge, on the other hand, took away some severely cut up feet from all the splinters she'd stepped on during the rescue. She would later receive a Carnegie Hero Fund Award for her heroism and patience with the elderly.
"She showed the type of elder patience unseen since Mark Baker helped his nana set up her Skype account."
Hideaki Akaiwa was just a regular guy working a regular job when the 2011 Tohoku earthquake shook his world apart. The good news for Akaiwa was that he was several miles inland when the 130-foot tsunami struck his town. The bad news was that his wife and mom weren't so lucky.
Rick Westhead/Toronto Star
"Fuck you, ocean. I'm not done with them yet."
When the ocean itself swallows your city, what do you do? Common sense and the 1998 disaster film Deep Impact tell you to make for higher ground as fast as you can and hope that your loved ones do the same. Fortunately for everyone involved, Akaiwa had opted for watching Armageddon instead of Deep Impact. Akaiwa's neighborhood wasn't just wet, it was under 10 feet of water. While everyone else was waiting around for the government or international aid groups to show up, Akaiwa found a wetsuit and scuba gear and started swimming.
At this point you might be thinking, "Big deal. I swim everyday," which makes you both a liar and a dummy, because when Akaiwa put on his wetsuit and started diving into what remained of his neighborhood, he wasn't swimming through the beautiful clear waters of the Bahamas, kissing on dolphins and stealing coral and whatnot. He was swimming through cold, dark water filled with chunks of buildings and downed power lines. Akaiwa found his house, and in it he found his wife up to her neck in water, gasping for air. He pulled her to safety, and rescue #1 was complete.
Akaiwa, displaying a pimp hand so strong that it must be gloved when not in use.
When his mother didn't turn up in the next few days and the ocean was still hanging around like that one old high school friend who can't take a hint, Akaiwa returned to the water, swimming until he found her on the second floor of her house, just waiting around for help. Full success on rescue #2.
With all of his relatives rescued, Akaiwa hung up his wetsuit and let rescue services handle the rest. Or he would have, if this was a normal person. Instead Akaiwa geared up, packing a knife, work gloves, a flashlight, some green tea (because Japan), some water, and a change of clothes. Then he slapped on some sunglasses and got right back to rescuing complete strangers from the icy flood waters. In fact, he cut off the interview that gave the press the story so he could continue looking for survivors. After apologizing to the reporter talking to him, of course.
And apparently making them wetter than the waters he was about to dive into.