ActofKindnessGenerally, having been a cop and having chased wars around the world for so long, I don’t expect a lot from people. It’s always a pleasant surprise every time someone along the way exceeds expectations.

I headed out of Oklahoma on my bike bound for New York. No, the bike’s not a Harley Hog. It’s a Honda Shadow 600. I’m more Wild Hogs than Hell’s Angels. Except, either way, I prefer riding alone.

I was working on a book called None Left Behind (St. Martin’s, 2009) about the war in Iraq, and was scheduled to link up with soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division at West Point to live with them a few days for interviews. An old Army vet, I consider it a great pleasure to get back on a post among men with whom I feel the most comfortable.

Rain drenched me across Missouri; there was a storm in Ohio. Pennsylvania met me in the Appalachians with temperatures in the 30s. In April. Factor in the wind while riding at 65mph and you have a pretty significant chill factor. In short, I was freezing my buns off.

A small town, a wide place on the highway really, nothing more than a gas station and a few houses. I pulled in to refuel. My teeth were tapping like castanets and I could hardly get off my bike for shivering. I filled up and headed inside to pay. A young woman met me at the door.

“You poor thing,” she commiserated, and, to my surprise, hugged me. “Coffee or hot chocolate?” she asked as she led me toward the back of the store where she fired up a propane heater and parked me directly in front of it.

Soon, I was warming up under a blanket and chugging cocoa. I call that personal service, going out of the way, a bit of kindness and compassion by a stranger for a wayward traveler. I wonder if the “Old America” before it became so congested and indifference set in might not have been like that everywhere.

“What if the President of the United States was trying to topple the nation—and you found out about it.” From A Thousand Years of Darkness by Charles W. Sasser. Available in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.com and on nook at BarnesandNoble.com.