what's the hellenistic?

When I was a junior in high school, I took a world history course. It was the last in a long line of public education history courses that did very little in the way of educating me about history. My teacher was gruff and middle-aged. Had she always been just a little bit standoffish and grumpy, or had twenty-five years of teaching done it to her?

One day, we were reviewing for a test that would gauge how much we had learned about the Hellenistic civilization. We'd been studying that particular period for about the last six weeks. So poor is my history education that I don't really remember much of anything about Hellenistic civilization, but I think it was probably important, since we spent so long reading about it.

To sum up: We studied the Hellenistic period for six weeks. We then reviewed the Hellenistic period in preparation for a test. Also, I don't know crap about history.

The teacher, seeing that we had only a few minutes left in the class, gave us the opportunity to ask any last minute questions for clarification. One student sat leafing through his textbook with a perplexed expression on his face. It wasn't the book itself causing his confusion, though you might wonder. We all had the same enormous book, but his was the only one that had been left on top of a car, flung by one of Newton's Laws onto Highway 18, and then run over a few times. But it was not the state of his book hurting his puzzler. Rather, it was a specific word that he kept seeing over and over in the chapter that we were all about to be tested on. So he decided that he needed to ask about this ubiquitous and unknown word.

"What's the Hellenistic?"

Every other student in the class started laughing. Not because his question was an indication of stupidity or inattention, but because the student had spoken so quickly that it had sounded as if he had asked "What the hell is this?" while staring in confusion at his mangled book. Our laughter was first shock, because you can't say "hell" in front of a teacher. Then we all laughed some more as we figured out what he had actually said.

Unfortunately, our teacher did not mishear him, nor did she know that we had, and so we were treated to a lecture about the importance of not laughing at anyone in the quest for knowledge, even if they ask what might appear to be a stupid question. It was quite a long speech, and we all slumped in our seats, unfairly accused and unwilling to explain. At the end of it, she might have told that kid what the Hellenistic period was.

Sometime during the next week, I ran into that teacher in the hall after school. She brought up the incident again, but this time, her explanation was entirely different. She had felt obligated to lecture us, because there are no stupid questions blahblahblah. But really and truly, she thought that kid was an idiot and she wished that she could have delivered an entirely different lecture, one just for him.

I just sort of smiled and nodded, because some things are just too hard to explain.



I was taking exit 301 off I-40 to get on the beltline. It was dark, and traffic was light. The exit ramp curved down and to the right, carving a path between the tall, tall trees. Towards the left of the ramp, there were a pair of headlights illuminating some of those trees. I thought it was an odd place for a cop to station himself - surely the exit ramp is not the best place to catch speeders. But then I realized that the car was a civilian vehicle, and it was facing away from the road, as if it had tried to take the exit, but then forgotten to turn and instead plowed straight into the weeds.

By the time my brain had processed the scene, I was past it. And then I immediately felt terrible.

A couple of years ago, I found myself stranded in the middle of the road with a car that wouldn't run. It could have been any single girl's worst nightmare, but really it was not bad at all, since it was a nice day, and I had AAA. While I was sitting there waiting on the tow truck, I was impressed with how many people stopped to see if they could help. My faith in humanity was restored, even as I sat by a car that had been dinged multiple times by people who had not bothered to leave a note.

Since then, whenever I have seen a motorist on the side of the highway, I've always felt a little obligated to stop. And yet I haven't done it, not even once. Usually, the person does not seem to be in any danger - they are very close to open businesses, it's in the middle of the day, or someone else has already stopped. Of course, all those things were true when I got stuck, too, and those people stopped anyway. And then I didn't need them.

But this situation was different. It was at least a mile in any direction to any sort of gas station, and it was nighttime, so fewer places would be open. Plus, there was just the whole emergency vibe of the situation. I had been stopped in traffic when my car just cut off. This person had run off the road. They might be incapacitated, and every minute that a Good Samaritan did not stop and help was one minute less they had to be saved.

Finally, my guilt got the best of me, and so I decided to turn around. This was not as easy as it could have been. I had to take the next exit to go back in the other direction, then take the next exit that way to get back to the ramp. It gave me a lot of time to think about why this was not a good idea. I was, after all, still a single gal in the city. Instead of finding a person in need, I might find a jerk with a knife. As I got closer and closer, I planned carefully how I was going to lock the car and hide my wallet and phone on my person. I wasn't thinking about how the person might be dead or badly injured or a traumatized teenager.

This is why people shouldn't watch the news. You see someone who has driven their car into the trees and think that they are going to rob, rape, or kill you.

Despite my fears, it was important that I do this. In all likelihood, the person I found would not be dangerous. And they probably wouldn't be dead. They would be like I was when I was on the side of the road: frustrated at the situation but surprised by the way strangers took the time to lend a hand. Someday, they, too might see a car by the side of the road and feel obliged to stop. Maybe it would take them five minutes to get back to the exit ramp, and maybe they would worry the whole way about sting operations involving disabled vehicles. But still, they would do it, and the world would be a better place because of it.

I like that I live in a world where strangers help out. And if I want to continue living in that kind of world, I have to be one of those helpful strangers.

When I finally got back to where I started, there were three cars parked on the side of the exit ramp with their flashers going. I guess some people have a little more practice at this Good Samaritan stuff, so they don't have to drive all over the place having a crisis of conscience. Figuring that the situation was under control, I drove on by for the second time in five minutes. Yes, I was relieved that I didn't have to stop. But I would have, and I think that counts for something.



It's not fair to hate a city and really, it doesn't make much sense. What are you hating, anyway? The inhabitants, the buildings, the weather? It does no good to hate a place, because the place surely doesn't care. Even the inhabitants of the place won't care, telling you that you just don't get it and that they don't want you around nohow. In the end, you are just wasting your energy.

All that being said, I kind of hate Richmond. I have a good reason: they towed my car once.

Josh had a show in downtown Richmond. My car was parked on the street, along with the cars of the other bar patrons. There were many. We came out of the bar at 2 AM, or whenever bars close in Virginia, and the night was lit up with blue lights pulsing from the tops of cars labelled "RPD." But no civilian cars on the street. I went to talk to a policeman, because that's what you should do when you're in a strange city and you can't find your car.

He said it had been towed. I asked why. He said it had been parked in a No Parking zone.

That seemed very odd to me, since I had been parked with a lot of other cars. Also, after living in Boone for four years, I am very careful to check for signs about where it is acceptable to park. Boone will tow your butt in a heartbeat, and then you have to go down to Ashe Lake Garage in the middle of the night, pay $70 to get your car back and then listen to the guy complain about stupid college kids. Spend any amount of time in Boone, and you will quickly develop a lifelong dread of public parking.

Apparently, Richmond and Boone have something in common.

It turns out that there were signs posted about No Parking. In front of every other space, there is a blue sign that says "2 Hour Parking, Monday - Friday, 8 AM - 5 PM." Now, from that sign, you might interpret that you could park there as long as you wanted on weekends or overnight. However, that sign should include some more text that says "Please refer to other signs". Because for every five of those signs is an additional sign which says "No Parking, Monday - Sunday, 11 PM - 4 AM." This sign is red, and there is a helpful graphic of the city of Richmond gleefully towing your butt.

So that's what happened. I presume that all the residents of Richmond know about this little trick and that 10:59, they sneak out of the bars and go move their cars to some secret free parking area, laughing at the clueless tourists all the way. Me, I was one of the clueless tourists, so at 10:59, I was still enjoying my beer inside the bar, unaware that the Okay To Park zone was about to become a HAHAHA SUCKAS zone. The policeman told me that my car was now at the police impound, which did not open until the next morning. We spent the night in Richmond, and the next morning, we took a cab over to the impound and rescued my car. It cost a lot of money, none of which the city of Richmond will use to put up more of the red No Parking signs.

And that's fine, that's life. But I can still hate Richmond, just a little bit, for that.