The Kindness of Strangers

While many of you were enjoying the myriad festivities throughout the county on the Fourth of July, my wife and I rented a U-Haul truck from Dovetail Trading in Sister Bay to move the last of our possessions from our house of 16 years down to our storage unit at Ephraim Storage. We are now largely settled into our apartment in Sister Bay, but the process of downsizing has been agonizingly slow to the point of seeming never ending.

About 1:45 in the afternoon, my sister, Alison – who was traveling with her husband, Steve, from their home in Cedarburg to their house in Ellison Bay – called me with an urgent request for assistance. They were 14 miles south of Sturgeon Bay and the battery in their vehicle was rapidly losing its charge.

At this point in the day, the U-Haul truck was almost completely filled and, as circumstance would have it, the truck was blocking Barb’s car in the driveway, so I had no way to go anywhere. Alison, however, had a different request: could I call auto supply shops in Sturgeon Bay to see if anything was open? Of course, I immediately began dialing stores, though I had little hope of success. And yet, much to my surprise, AutoZone on Egg Harbor Road was not only open, they were keeping their regular hours and were open until 8 pm.

At this point, let me make an aside for two brief notes. First, as you have already read, this column has (and will have) numerous plugs for businesses and individuals in the county. This is very intentional on my part and you will come to see the reason for these plugs as the theme of this column unfolds. Second, it is important for you to realize that no business or individual mentioned in this story had any idea that Alison and Steve were related to me in any way or that they had any particular connection to Door County (at least until much later in the day). As far as anyone knew, Alison and Steve were simply two tourists who found themselves in a very difficult situation.

So as we return to the story, after notifying Alison that AutoZone was open, and giving her the number to contact them, I urged her to exit into Sturgeon Bay’s west side and to head through town to AutoZone. A short time later, however, Alison called to notify me that their car had died near the intersection of Maple and Oak. To further complicate their situation, they were towing a small trailer and they had their two, full-grown German Shepherds in the car.

While Alison tended to the dogs, including having Hot Tamales restaurant on Oak Street providing her with water, Steve walked the opposite direction on Oak to the Olde Opera House, where he met the owner, Mike Hall. And here’s where the story turns to the remarkable.

After Steve explained his predicament, Mike stopped what he had been doing and ventured out to take a look at the car with Steve. Some discussion ensued that resulted in general agreement that the problem was the alternator. A quick call to AutoZone confirmed that they had a new alternator in stock. Mike explained that he couldn’t work on the car but he might know someone who could and he quickly began to make some phone calls.

Mike was able to get hold of his good friend, Harry Nell, who normally works in O’Reilly Auto Parts on Egg Harbor Road on Sturgeon Bay’s east side. Harry had been enjoying a day with his family, taking in the Baileys Harbor Fourth of July parade and the Egg Harbor Fourth of July parade. The festivities had just concluded and, after Mike explained the situation fully, Harry said he would drop his family at home, grab his tools, and would head right over.

While Harry was in transit, Mike offered to drive Steve over to get the alternator at AutoZone. Mike apologized for his “messy” truck and asked permission to stop at his house to drop-off some food for his kids on the way, to which Steve more than readily agreed. Shortly after they returned, Harry arrived ready to work on the car.

The work included Harry making a second trip home to grab a particular tool and removing the battery – which was completely drained – to place on a charger, which Mike graciously plugged in to charge in the restaurant.

And thus, the alternator was replaced, the battery was charged, and Steve and Alison were soon back on the road, arriving in Ellison Bay before dinnertime.

So this column is a rather extended Shout Out to Mike Hall of the Olde Opera House at 23 West Oak in Sturgeon Bay, Harry Nell (and his family for allowing him to take time on his Fourth of July holiday to help complete strangers), AutoZone at 1471 Egg Harbor Road for being open on the holiday, and Hot Tamales at 26 East Oak for helping hydrate the dogs on a warm day – but mostly to Mike and Harry.

As I have written many times through the years, tourism and tourists make it possible for all of us who are residents to live on this peninsula. Though my sister and brother-in-law are not traditional tourists, no one who stepped forward to help them were aware that this was the case. They simply took time from their own holiday and their own business to help strangers in a difficult position.

So, while I am thankful as a brother and brother-in-law for the assistance that was provided, I am just as thankful as a resident of this county for the efforts put forth by Mike and Harry. You guys did the county a great service, and for that I extend my thanks.