Thank God for the kindness of strangers.

Dolly before heading home to Indiana.

I took to the road in late August bound for Nashville, Tennessee and a Radical Results workshop presented by The Barefoot Executive, Carrie Wilkerson. Pumped up about learning business-building tips, I whizzed down I-65 to Music City in the best little car I’ve ever owned–a green, 2003 Toyota Prius, fondly dubbed “Sparky.”

Three years free and clear of a car loan, I vowed to drive Sparky until she died.  And…I did.

Dashboard idiot lights, as I call them, don’t usually scare me, but this was different. Sparky was toast.

As daunting as it is to break down 10 miles from your destination in the noontime summer sun on an interstate bridge with tractor trailers whizzing by at 70 m.p.h., I resolved, “NO TEARS.” I summoned the Girl Scout in me.

Safely buckled into my sweltering car, praying that I didn’t get rear-ended by one of dozens of trucks rounding the curve behind me, I picked up my cell and started dialing. “Where to tow Sparky?”

Beaman Toyota sits on a ridge overlooking downtown Nashville and is mere blocks from Music Row and 16th Avenue that Lacy J. Dalton sang about when I was a kid. This is where Barry Lee works. For 25 years he’s helped out folks stuck on the side of the road. He loves to talk and he LOVES his job.

Traveling alone as a woman isn’t a big deal until something goes wrong that leaves you vulnerable. Whether it was the decibel of those truck tires so loud over the phone or something in my voice, Barry bent backwards to make sure I was okay. His was the friendly, southern voice that kept my panic at bay as I waited on the edge of southbound I-65. Heck, he even called the county sheriff who came to sit with me until the wrecker arrived.

As it turns out, a Prius trans-axel is the equivalent to a transmission and Sparky’s was shot. I was in a predicament and Barry, whether he knew it or not, made the situation much easier to take.

In fact, Sparky’s final days would have been far tougher if it weren’t for ALL the guys at Beaman Toyota.

Jim and Dick chauffeured me past converted houses on Music Row and the studio where Elvis recorded, then pointed out Taylor Swift’s high-rise apartment. (Coolest thing ever for this country girl!)

Poor Clint Pewitt and his crew cracked Sparky’s chest and tried their best, to no avail. “Engrave the headstone,” I thought. “It’s time to buy a new car.”

Brett Bowen’s sales desk occupies prime Nashville skyline real estate. I spent the next afternoon with this young man toggling between the heat of a used Prius lot and recuperating in the A/C. Never once did I get the feeling the deal would be better struck by my husband. Never once was there pressure. Brett was exactly the salesman I needed for this crazy mission to buy a car in a day so I could get back home again to Indiana. He and the money guy, Rick Sellers, organized the chaos in my mind. It was tiring, but it was painless.

Cruising home the next day in my new-to-me 2008, “arrest-me” red Prius, I put the stereo through its paces singing along to Nashville’s finest and missed Brett’s call checking up on me. Later, I picked up that voicemail and it dawned on me—“Thank God for the kindness of strangers.” They tipped the scale away from fiasco on this trip.

Compassion and empathy for another person’s circumstances seems rare these days. That’s why it’s so important to share the story when a friend, a stranger or even a company shows it.

These folks deserve a shout-out and all of us, whether we realize it, NEED to hear their stories. It does a heart good to know these folks exist and I will always look more fondly upon Nashville for my time spent at Beaman’s.

Who knows, maybe I’ll bring “Dolly” by for a free oil change. Yeah, that’s right–“Dolly.” She’s a little flashy on the outside, but altogether country on the inside. Just like me!

P.S. By the way, I made the seminar and LOVED it. Check out Carrie’s new book, The Barefoot Executive.

Leave the world better than you found it!

Quick Thoughts: Jackie Kennedy Tapes

Watching the Diane Sawyer preview of the Jackie Kennedy oral history tapes and book last night, it really struck me how incredibly happy I am to be empowered to earn my own success. How foreign it would be to measure my self worth and success only through my ability to ensure my husband’s. While I found every bit of it fascinating and loved the time capsule quality of those tapes,  I am glad it is just that–a fascinating look back at Camelot and women’s history, rather than a representation of my gender’s present or future.

Leave the world better than you found it.

Check out my newest article in Success about Ed Sayres, ASPCA

Ever wonder how a non-profit can score millions in donations during a recession? Ed Sayres delivered for animals as leader of ASPCA operating under the mantra, “Say what you do and do what you say.” Click here to check out my newest article in Success magazine.

Leave the world better than you found it!

Banana Bread for Robby

Small mountains of dorm essentials dot every level of my house and I’m struck by the reality that my daughter will never again come home in quite the same way. All at once, I am sad and joyful.

Don’t get me wrong, I know this isn’t some unique revelation and I’m not going to drivel on and on. (Even though I wish I could because this is my first brush with really missing my kid.)

No, I’m counting my blessings like other parents out there, who would walk through fire to make sure their child flies into a positive future. And I’m thinking of a man I met last fall while writing a story about entrepreneurial fear for Success www.success.com magazine.

Mike Lawrence doesn’t take himself too seriously judging by his job title: Top Banana. When I queried Help A Reporter Out www.haro.com looking for entrepreneurs willing to talk about their fears, Mike’s candor about debt and business expansion during a recession was right on track with my story focus.

But months after meeting my editor’s deadline, I still had Havana Banana Breads www.havanabananabreads.com

Robby Lawrence

on the brain. I hold Mike responsible for that for two reasons: Dark Chocolate Chunk (The yummiest banana bread I’ve EVER eaten!) and Robby.

You see, Mike may have jumped out of airplanes for Uncle Sam during his Army career, but he started baking banana bread for Robby’s sake. Mike was a single dad raising a non-verbal, autistic son, who loved to eat and was fixated by TV cooking shows. Bananas were a favorite, so of course Robby gobbled up Mike’s experimental banana breads.

But it wasn’t until Robby was 11 that banana bread, Robby’s future and Mike’s career truly converged. By that time Mike had remarried, Mary. (a.k.a. Mrs. Banana.) He was pondering his post-Army National Guard career, which was many years down the road, and planning for his son’s future.

Unlike mine, Mike’s role as his child’s caretaker and provider won’t taper off with a move to college. And like so many developmentally disabled children, Robby will forever need him in a way my girls will not need me.

“When you have a child that can’t take care of himself, you have extra grey hair because of that. I think about it every day,” Mike says.

So, it’s for Robby that Mike took 12 years to methodically plan every facet of Havana Banana Breads, dedicating time and resources along the way. After retiring in 2008, Mike went live with a debt-free company that sells a spectacular product. (Who doesn’t like banana bread?) Today, they are expanding with new, large capacity commercial ovens and anticipating business growth.

What would that mean for Robby? “Money doesn’t guarantee good care, but it gives you choices,” Mike says.

Robby turns 25 this month. He lives in a group home near Mike and Mary in suburban Washington, DC. and participates in a day program. Robby is very happy.

And his dad? “As long as Robby’s well taken care of and feeling good, then life is good.”