The Tire Iron and the Tamale

Sometimes help comes from an unexpected source (a thing or person you get something from). Sometimes it’s free, and sometimes it changes you forever. This story is adapted (changed to make it easier to read) and shortened from a true story by Justin Horner. You can read the complete, unadapted story in the New York Times Magazine. [Note: Since many of the sentences below are taken directly from the original article, we’ve put quotes around the entire selection so you know they are (mostly) from Horner’s story.]

Here is Justin’s story:

“During this past year, I’ve had car trouble three times, and they all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse.

“Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted (very upset) with the way people didn’t stop to help. People at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t loan them to me “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a one-gallon can for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like ‘this country is going to hell in a handbasket (getting worse).’

“But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants (someone who has moved from another country), Mexican immigrants, and none of them spoke any English.

“One of those guys (men) stopped to help me with a blow-out (when a tire suddenly bursts, like a balloon) even though he had his whole family with him. I was on the side of the road for almost three hours with my friend’s big Jeep (a kind of car for traveling over rough ground). I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, ‘NEED A JACK (tool to lift something heavy),’ and offered money. Nothing. Just as I was about to give up (stop trying to do something), a van pulled over, and a man jumped out.

“He sized up (looked at) the situation and called for his daughter who spoke English. He conveyed (communicated) through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to put something under it. Then he got a saw (tool for cutting wood) from his van and cut a section (piece) out of a big log (large piece of wood from a tree) on the side of the road. We put his jack on top of it and we were in business (ready to begin).

“I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron (tool used to remove a tire or wheel). Damn!

“No worries: he ran to the van and handed (gave) it to his wife. She was gone in a flash (immediately) down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job, and I was a very happy man.

“The two of us were filthy (very dirty) and sweaty (wet from working hard). His wife brought out a large water jug (container with small opening) for us to wash our hands. I tried to put a 20-dollar bill in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other (many times). I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome (very good, impressive). She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches and, after that, go back home.

“After I said goodbye and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran over and handed me a tamale (a traditional Mexican food; see the picture).

“This family, probably poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch (area) of highway, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks just drove by.

“But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again, walked back to my car, and opened the foil (thin metal sheet for wrapping food) on the tamale. What did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled (turned quickly) around, ran to the van, and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, ‘Por favor (‘please’ in Spanish), por favor, por favor,‘ with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with great difficulty, said in English: ‘Today you, tomorrow me.’ Then he rolled up his window and drove away with his daughter waving to me from the back.

“I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough (very difficult) year; nothing had seemed to go right for me. This was so out of left field (unexpected) I didn’t know what to do.

“In the several months since then, I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations, and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank (collecting or saving something for the future).”

Have you ever had an experience like Justin’s? How did it affect you?

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English where you can find clear explanations and practical suggestions for better English.

Photo of a tamale by Anita Sarkeesian used under Creative Commons license.


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30 Responses to The Tire Iron and the Tamale

  1. Ethan says:


    I almost cried at the end of the story..

    This Mexican family is sooooooooooo awesome!!!!!!

    Two Thumbs up!!!!

  2. sara says:

    uau, that made me cry.. but good tears, you know,
    thanks for the history. I think today I just needed something like this.

  3. Vicky says:

    It’s a wonderfull story. My own experience shows, people are ready to help each other, but sometimes they are not sure their help realy be needed and to shy to ask.
    Or sometimes we are realy haven’t pay attention, because we are too deaf by our own troubles.
    And I myself try allready help if I can, because man has got such a good feeling to get somebody out of a jam.
    And I want say to all – please next time take a minute (or more) and try to help.

  4. Talal says:

    Well. I didnt have like this experience mr.Warren, not yet anyway .
    But i do believe that sometimes one immigrant is better than the whole city’s citizens, and i dont know why poor people are much polite and kind and helpful than average people( i am speaking in general ) ?? I have heard such stories too many times !! And it implies the same thing basically. . !! ??

  5. Hilario says:

    Today for you, tomorrow for … someone other else:Thanks Warren for bringing in such a sensible topic in these current time, selfish times, yet indeed!. I´ve been actually experiencing more or less the same happening and I was helped by the same profiled people than the ones in Horner´s story. High spirit people doesn´t have to be necessarily poor people but … What a chance! they´re most times this way. This may have something to do with religious believes, kind of educational background in the last end. Most Hispanic people profess Catholic religion and no matter how critic one can be about religions in general, there´re some basic good human values that are trasmitted to these –sometimes illiterate people through some pictorial guide it called the catechism book in their early childhood. You never forget stories such as The Good Samaritan, specially when you have learned them out before being highly contaminated by materialism, selfishness, insolidarity and other alike sort vital poisons.

  6. emiliano says:

    Yes, Hilario you have said just the same I was thinking about this so nice good human behavior.

    I am really happy for this man who knows now that there are really good people who have inside their hearts and minds
    what is the real important things in life, for the Mexicans family as a group helping other human in necessity was
    clear and without importance. Not any money can disturb what is so natural and clear for them.
    “Today for you tomorrow for me”, we need to have always this simple phrase deep inside our minds and hearts.

    Thank you Warren, it´s warm and grateful for us to know there are humans like this Mexican family.


  7. Marina says:

    I moved to the USA one year ago.
    It was very hard at the beginning because you felt absolutely helpless sometimes.
    And I must say I received help from both immigrants and citizens.
    I am glad there are people who can understand your situation and want to help you without any reward.
    This way we are still human race.

  8. Betty says:

    Thank you so much, Warren, for posting this touching story for us. I have always read your articles with patience and every time it pays off.

    I can praise you forever but it still won’t be enough to show the gratefulness in my heart.

    There must be many excellent teachers in this world, but very often, children, who the society are committed to educate do not appreciate their teachers because they are too young to understand.

    Many years ago, when I was a student, I only imagined myself teaching other people after my education, I could not imagine myself having teachers to teach myself once I left the college.

    Today, although my original objective of using this website was to learn English in order to pass some English teachers’ Assessment Test, I actually have learnt a lot more than ‘English’.

    I am not good at expressing my gratitude, so please, all teachers and supporting staff and all fellow students here, let me say a simple word, THANKS.


    I was an ‘immigrant’ in England, and a ‘local’ in Hong Kong.

    I have tried to help many people, and I was helped by many people, again, the subject and object can be locals or immigrants all the time.

    I remember almost every event of being helped when my car broke down (due to run out of petrol, a damp starter, an overheated engine, or a flat battery etc).

    You may ask me why I drove such a bad car (an old banger, as they say in England), I was a student and that was all that I could afford.

    It is a shame that the society can be complicated and many criminals prey on people’s kind heart of helping other people and perform their criminal acts on these kind people.

    I was told off many times by some people that I could get myself into trouble by helping other people, especially stranger. I know it, but I know there are many genuine cases still, and I hope my guardian angel will look after me every time I decide to try to be a Good Samaritan.

  9. Peter says:

    Hi Warren,
    I m totally perplexed
    I don’t get the sentence people can told me they couldn’t ….
    To my best of knowledge this sentence is grammatically wrong
    People could have told me
    People could tell me that they couldn’t help
    Would you explain the grammar here
    I mean definitely I m wrong
    But ,I don’t know how?
    Can told me they couldn’t ?????
    We can put
    Can told
    Can tell me
    Still doesn’t make sense

  10. Peter says:

    Good show Warren ,
    You were very lucky to get sb in the stick to begin with. But very touchy story
    U unintentionally gave us a good example of collectivist culture as oppose to individualistic culture.
    The Individual one reinforce the attitude you just explained ,nobody reaches out to anybody else unless there is a mutual interest in it for both sides equally.
    This culture argues that individuals must just look after themselves and their close families.
    By contrast, the collectivist one sees every person as a component of a group.individual on the group care about other well beings.
    There is another reason to it
    People have trust issue here in North America.
    They are very reticent ,they tend to keep to themselves and not get involved.
    Good job Warren
    Good stuff bro
    You always have sth in ur sleeve that touches us in a way:)

  11. Tania says:

    Hi! I have driven on the Pacific Coast Highway all day long but…nobody known from L.A.
    Anything is possible on April Fools’Day.

  12. Ziba says:

    Hi Warren!
    The story is great and it shows that we can still find some kind and brave people in the world.
    I think some people are afraid of helping others in the road. Nowadays there are a lot of highway/ street robberies. So they can’t trust them who are in troubles. If I were them I might do the same, but I enjoy helping people.
    Thanks’ Warrant,

  13. Betty says:

    Hi Peter, I am sorry to be nosy again, but I feel it is OK to be nosy this time because as Justin Horner’s story teaches us, be brave and try to offer help if we can.

    In Warren’s article in this blog, in the 4th paragraph, “People at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t loan them to me “for safety reasons”.

    The word ‘can’ here is a noun, a container, but not the auxiliary verb ‘can’.

    A gas can is a container which you use to hold gas (fill the can with gas). In England we fill our vehicles’ fuel tanks with either ‘petrol’ or ‘dissel’, depends on the car engine type. In U.S. they call the fuel gasoline, thus the term ‘gas can’.

    It is possible that you noticed Justin was talking about a ‘gas can’ already. In that case, please accept my apology to trouble you.

  14. Peter says:

    Ergot the spring ,but we get the chill of winter everyday.
    Seems like spring is just winter’s diabolical Machiavellian schem to never leave.
    Here we never get spring
    The transicion is a jump to summer
    You never trace spring here

  15. emiliano says:

    I can understand perfectly well the gist of this so nice story, by my side just in this moment I have a close friendship with two immigrants
    who are living up my flat, just in the same building.
    What is curious about this subject is that with the Spaniards who are living in the same building I scarcely interchange a good morning
    or a good evening, nothing more.
    But at first I tried to have some kind of confidence but it was a sterile intent by all means.
    May be we are old and some way with healthy problems and our Spaniards fellows have their own life and they don´t want any
    kind of future problems about sickens or necessities.
    In this so hard society the elderly are a nuisance even more if they are in some necessity.

    Now if I need or want some help immediately I know so well that the only neighbors who care about us in the building
    are Isabel and Cesar, she is Peruvian from Lima and he is Ecuadorian from Quito.
    In fact they come home with absolutely confidence and we receive from them just the warm feelings similar to this family of
    the story Warren have told us.
    In the funeral of my father last January Cesar helped me a lot to carry Cuca on her wheelchair from home till the church as
    my back is not so good as to push it for a long time, that´s something I can´t ever forget.

    Of course was he the one I asked for the favor because I know him well so different from the other fellows who live in the
    As in the story these Spaniard neighbors only care about their own life and if they see you may need some care
    or help …..not please, I am very busy about my own life….beside elderly people are always a trouble.
    I do think people who have come from other countries like South America or another parts of the world which are
    no so much developed as this supposed first world have another kind of feelings, better about what is the necessity of
    a neighbor or a man who is isolate in the middle of a road with his car broken.

    Just to not say anything about the elderly, here they are a trouble even more if they have not a good health, but it is not
    so for these immigrants who feel respect for their elderly as we had here a long time ago….
    Immigrants understand what is human solidarity with persons who need them, living here I do hope not a suddenly change.
    Yes, Cuca and me are really very pleased knowing this couple of immigrants from South America, from them we receive
    the best: friend-shipment, respect and love.

    Good Betty, very good…
    I can see you are a real nice teacher who care about the Blog, thank you very much.


  16. Mesut-Originaly from Turkey says:

    I was effected from this story. And I lived same like this story five years ago. Like this; I had come to U.S. as new comers for one year. I had a old car. It had no problem until that time. My family had come and I had to meet them in Chicago Airport. I picked them up and I was turning back to my city which is 3 hours distance. In downtown Chicago, on the highway, my car suddenly stopped during driving on middle of road. As you know, traffic was very heavy but flown. It was summer and weather was very very hot. My car stopped because of its motor indicators flashed. I think, my car passed out due to hot weather condition. My family (two small daughter and my wife) and I, we stayed on the middle of highway. Some drivers slowed down and asked me whether to need cell phone. Who could I call? Car repairman or towing company? I didn’t know anyone in Chicago, and also I didn’t know enough English. So I thanked them politely. Meanwhile, one car approached to my car and one man got off and told me ‘we have to pull off the road your car from middle of road. So he pushed my car watch over heavy traffic. And he went back to car, he brought it in front of my car. He came again, his hand had some beverages for my children and gave them. He controlled my car’s engine, but he couldn’t find anything. His wife was waiting in his car by the way. When he couldn’t find anything, he ask me what I would do. I mentioned about my experience long time ego, so I would wait until it cool down. Did you know where they were from? Yes, They were Mexican. I thanked him and his wife many many times when they left. After half hour later, I started in on my car, it worked and I drove. It did same problem couple of times until We went out of Chicago, but I pulled off immediately as soon as I felt the problem. After 5-6 hours later, We arrived to our home. It was very stressful day for me. If I were my self, I was not sorry for me, but this problem was terrible with my family. Next times, I rented car for to go to Chicago.
    Again, I thank that family. God (Allah) bless them and give them all good things whatever they want.
    Hi to all.
    Mesut (In Illinois, originally from Turkey)

  17. Hello people from all over the world
    This is a real story about good heart people. Who doens’t feel good at staying beside these people? Some think there is no good people. Fortunately they exist. Everywhere in this world it is possible to meet people like those in the story. The Bilble says that one must do favor but not expect a favor back as a payment. Do and forget. The prize will come some day. It is interesting that when you do something good for people you feel goog too. Action like that brings peace, comfort, pleasure and other feelings inside. Try whenever you can do a favor to somebody. This will make you healthier.
    Aecio from beautiful green and yellow Brazil.

  18. John says:

    Unlike Superman who is only a fictional hero, these people are real heros.

  19. Tania says:

    Hi! Especially for men/women in power it is easy to help people in need even with a piece of good advice.
    When I am in despair I always hope the help comes from an unexpected source. I am afraid of my future and it is true “today you, tomorrow me”.
    You never know “for whom the bell tolls”.
    An experience like Justin’s? Yes! I have helped to bring up an orphan child.
    I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank for my unforeseenable future.

    Best wishes,


  20. Tania says:

    Hi! I have been reading Zinsser on Friday. Interesting for me “Prisoners of Britspeak” where the author remarks that “we aren’t the only people who can’t understand British actors”.
    The drama critic of the New York Times seeing the play Arcadia said: “I suggest you read Arcadia before seeing it this time.”
    So, we aren’t the only people who can’t understand the English language. We have a lot learning…

  21. Tania says:

    Hi! With many new phrases which I have met in our topics I have started to understand better many articles published on Yahoo.
    For instance : “the iPhone5 is soon going into the mass production stages.” Thank you.

  22. Peter says:

    Touché 🙂
    warren, you got me
    And,you got me right:)
    Thanks Betty for stregthening it up.
    Point taken Betty
    Thanks for acknowledging it
    You are right!
    It s the gas can
    Not isolating the extra explanation”Where I asked for the gas can” by commas in both sides threw me off. Although, there is no need for comas because it is not some extra info about what the sentence is about . By contrast ,it is a necessary piece of info. So, the necessary info when is always embedded to the whole body of the sentence to not abrupt the flow.
    Warren,always you have some tricks in your sleeve for me.
    I eat the humble pie and say,” this time around you got me bro.”
    Round one you win. I got skunked 🙂
    But,it is not finished yet my friend
    Be on your toes . The second round just started:))

  23. Peter says:

    Finally,today some waft of warm weather hit this cold stricken reigion.

    Hope ,it  is always sunny in your part of the world
    My part of the world is always cloudy
    Some people got it all while others just watch it all.
    Well ,it is the way of  world balancing itself; some people die for others to live.

    But,as Ghandi once said,” Its a sin to have wealth without work.”
    And don’t forget
    As Peter one said,” tenacity builds success.” :))))

  24. Peter says:

    My female blog mate
    Always judge a man with what he plans to do , not what he has passed already

  25. Betty says:

    Hi Peter, you are right, Warren always has some tricks in his sleeve for us.

    I did pause at the word ‘can’ for a while before I figured out the meaning of the whole sentence. That’s why I could understand your question to Warren.

    You are always welcome, Peter.

    I would like to borrow a saying from the clever and brave Mexican husband and father in Justin Horner’s story: ‘Today you, tomorrow me’.


    Hi Emiliano, thank you so much for your encouraging words to me, I shall continue working hard to learn more English, it has been very useful for me to know a second language.

    Justin Horner’s second language was Spanish, and the clever and brave Mexican man’s second language was English. Just a word ‘Please’ in Spanish, and a phrase ‘Today you, tomorrow me’ in English told us so much about these two people’s good nature as human being.

    I was moved by your story of your helpful neighbours. Your story has told us a lot about what the society must pay attention to. It made me more determined to go back to the society to help more people.

    At the moment I concentrate my energy to help my father and my own immediate family. I think it is right to do so. My father was an orphan who started looking after himself before his teens, and he spent more than 60 years helping and saving a lot of people. It is not too much for him to accept a little bit of willing help from his own children.

    Moreover, I have spent my best 30 years working and contributing to the society already, I shall have no guilt in spending sometime with my own father.

  26. Kadir says:

    It is really a great story…

  27. Kaz says:

    The friend in need the frend indeed. Just says the English proverb.
    However, friendship is only one of many advantages of being helpful. Did you try to help people totally sick and dependent on others? Or to newcomer in the airport, when she, for example, is a Turkish student with many pieces of luggage and zero knowledge of your country? What did you feel after giving help?
    There are not many things in this World, which makes you happy. Among others, there is creativity (in sense: making new things), which is available mostly for artists and scientists, and of course, helping people, accessible for all.
    Kaz in Poland

  28. sara says:

    Dear Warren ,
    TNX for sharing it.that was a good one ,to be honest you always pick great subjects.

  29. Valerie says:

    It’s the awesome story of humanism. It’s wonderful that this lucky author of the article met such nice people on his way. I’d like there were more kind and generous people in this imperfect world. Of course we can’t say from this article that all Mexican people are helpful and kind. There are good and bad people in every country and in every community.

    Unfortunately, people in general don’t much care about other people and don’t like to sacrifice for sake of other people, but they ALWAYS want the good attitude towards themselves and they want other people always think about them and help them every time they are in need. It’s paradox of the human’s nature.

    I always tell that if you wish to change something in this world you should start with yourself. You shouldn’t look at other people and their experiences. Most of the them live wrong. If you want more kindness in this world, then help other people and stray animals even if it’s not convenient for you. If you want to make the environment cleaner, then do your best for that, don’t litter on the streets, grow trees. If you want more love in you life, then love everything and everyone in this world. It’s very important to remember.

  30. Mina says:

    Today for you, tomorrow for me ….:)

    I love it..

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