Chivalry & the Code of the West


Yesterday, I had an experience that caused me to pause, stand back a bit and try to understand a phenomena that I have not experienced before.

Yesterday I had a flat tire.  Unfortunately for me, the tire went flat all at once and dramatically.  One moment all had been fine and then without warning, all was not well and I was trying to find a way off a freeway into a safer part of the road.

I took the first exit off the freeway, only to find myself on another very busy freeway — one between two of the major freeways where I live.  Had I been alone, it might not have been so hair-raising, but I was not alone. It was scary.

But what caught my attention and wouldn’t let go, was the lack of help all the way from my roadside assistance organization, to the people traveling so quickly on that freeway.  I was quickly brought to understand that no one cared to help.  No one stopped.

It took me 15 minutes to be able to talk with a live person with my roadside assistance organization, and it took them one hour to come and help me — and even then, I was given “a lick and a promise.”  The young man changed the tire, but threw the torn one into the trunk without battening it down, told me he “couldn’t” put the hub cap back on the tire, didn’t put the things back that he’d pulled out of my trunk and left in a hurry.  Wham!  Bam!  And off he left.

My roadside assistance told me they had called the police to see if they might be able to give me assistance.  No one came.  No one stopped.

Huh!  I thought to myself.

Now, I’ve traveled all over the United States, touring with my books, visiting family and friends, and I’ve always observed that if I have trouble on the road, someone usually will stop and try to assist me.  Having a roadside assistance organization, I sometimes don’t need that help — but the point is that someone almost always stops.


Is it the East Coast?  Because I now live on the East Coast, close to NY City.  Is it NY City — the City with a reputation of, “It’s all about me, fella, and not about you.”  The me…me…me…me…me…me…me attitude?  (As Toby Keith put it so well.)  Is it the fear of being sued because one tried to help?…  Shame on the judge that allowed that one to go through.

Or is it that our society has gone so far down that people fear to come to the aid of another?

cripple creek2I don’t know.  All I know is that in the West, any time I’ve had trouble on the road, someone has always stopped.  One fella changed a flat tire for me so quickly, I had to cancel my roadside assistance.

It was that — looking at the difference between the Western attitude and the Eastern attitude toward the subject of help that brought to mind the Code of the West…that to help a fellow traveler was considered important, and one’s duty.  It’s still alive in the West.

Is it dead in the East?  My experience yesterday would have me believe that it is here in the New York area, that there is no chivalry in what has been described as a cold, cold city.  But perhaps I’m prejudiced.  I am a Western girl, after all.  I love the West, probably always will.

And so I thought I’d leave you with an anecdote about something that happened to me recently.  I travel a lot — and just recently had traveled throughout the South Eastern states.  As I drive, I try to be polite to other drivers — i.e., letting people into line, etc.  Never a problem.

Then as I was approaching home more closely, I let a person in line to exit ahead of me because there was construction, and traffic was at a standstill anyway.  Immediately as soon as I kindly let this person in, someone in back of me honked, laying on the horn.  I thought to myself, “Gee, if I had been uncertain as to where I am, I’d know it now. ” No where I have traveled have I experienced such unkindness on the road.

Anyway, what are your thoughts on the matter?  Have I tramped on toes here?  Or do you, too, have an experience to relate?  Do come in and let’s chat.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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25 thoughts on “Chivalry & the Code of the West”

  1. Good Morning, Kay. I recently had a flat, more of a mini wreck really, I hit a curb and wrecked the tire.
    I had someone stop to offer help and road side assistance was a very nice young man. He didn’t get there too fast, but he had a ways to travel.

    Welcome to NEBRASKA. 🙂

    • This was my experience in the West, also. Usually several people would stop to help — so much so that like I said, once i had to cancel my roadside assistance because the tire was changed so fast.

      I miss the West.

  2. Hi Kay, I have heard that California drivers actually are the most mannerly of all. And I know whenever I’ve had to use AAA, they come in a few minutes. So sorry…so scary for you. Sheesh. Glad you’re safe.

  3. Wow glad you’re ok! I haven’t had to use road side assistance but I feel like here in the Northwest more often than not people would stop and help someone, especially if they saw it was a women. If I were you I would nicely but defiantly file some kind of complaint. Again glad you’re alright.

    • Hi Cori!

      Yes, I intend to not only file a complaint, but to go elsewhere — there really was not excuse for the Wham! Bam! Thank you ma’am attitude — and after an hour, no less. So I do think for the period of time I’m here on the East Coast I’ll go elsewhere.

  4. When I lived back in NY… people stopped and would help or check to see if you were okay… but that was before everyone had cellphones… my father’s department would help with car issues, but I do not know what it is like now… I also think some areas back east are a bit fast paced that they do not care what is going on around them… it is I have to do this and get here at this time… they do not think of others… I am also thinking some people do not like to stop because of the issue of possible danger… whether from the traffic around them or the strangers they encounter…
    Glad you are alright… sad about how customer service lacks nowadays…

    • Hi Colleen!

      Yes, I think it’s changed nowadays — maybe people do think that they don’t have to stop because of cell phones, but that didn’t stop people in the West from coming to your rescue — and the service from roadside assistance was by far the worst kind of service imaginable…

      I think after this one, I’m going to do a post on the long ago days of early travel by the Model T’s and show the difference between then and now. After this experience, i went and did a little research.

  5. That’s been my experience in the West, California, Arizona, Nevada, Montana, etc. Never much of a wait and usually several people stopping to help. Not here in NY… Too much of “it’s all about me, and not about you…” conditioned attitude, I fear.

    It was scary, I must say. My roadside assistance was the worst I’ve ever experienced … ever…

  6. In general, I have found that people stop and help or help you get the help you need. I also live in the middle of the country where it probably would be someone I know. I did have one experience though that was rather unsettling that I had forgotten about until now. This happened about 48 years ago. I was about 8 months pregnant and on my way to a nearby town to see my doctor. I had my 2 year old with me when I had a flat tire. Several people went past and waved before someone stopped. I was there almost an hour in the summer heat. My savior not only changed the tire but took it to be fixed while I was in the doctor’s office. There are good people out there!

  7. I live in the East but I live outside of Pittsburgh and we are known to be a friendly city – I know of many instances where people have stopped to help. Sorry, no one stopped to help you.

  8. I have to make an amendment here — traveling through the south on the East coast is different, and I’ve found people helpful. Perhaps I should really say the NY Northeast part of the country. I have to put NY Northeast because I used to live in the very, very northern part of the Northeast — in Vermont — and this never would have happened there — that no one came to my assistance.

  9. Hi Karen, so sorry about your flat tire. All my flat tires have been in California and I’ve never had any problems. We actually have a free service patrol in L.A. county and once they got to me before the Auto club, changed my tire and sent me on my way in minutes. The nice man wouldn’t even take a tip.

    They really clear off the roads fast here, because they don’t want anything holding up traffic.

    • I think this is part of my problem with this — I’m used to such great service on this sort of thing in California. Minutes — not an hour, amid heavy, fast traffic, Thanks for the comment.

  10. No toes trampled. Unfortunately, it is the way things have become. I have found in our travels that whenever we are close to a large population area, the curtesy goes down. Everyone is in a hurry and you are in their way. I think too, that another factor is where there are a lot of people, everyone figures someone else will help. When you are out in the wide expanse of the West, towns are far apart and traffic is light. You know if you don’t stop to help it could be a long time before someone else comes along. The pace of life is slower for most and the ethic is different. I will say the one flat tire I have had was in Colorado Springs. A young man did stop and change it for me, but then asked to be paid.

    Even in the rural area we live in here in the South, politeness on the road is at a low ebb. We lived in the Washington, DC area for 5 years before moving to NE TN. My husband drove the beltway every day. Yet when we moved here, our insurance rates went up. We were surprised, until we realized how bad the drivers are here. They want to be in front of you and will often do anything to accomplish it. The rules are for everyone else. At lunch today, the man sitting behind us was talking about his motorcycle ride a couple of days ago. He mentioned the interstates he was on (speed limit 65MPH) and saying he was going 110 to 120 MPH. He was even complaining some drivers were in his way. That stretch of road is always busy and the posted speed limit is reduced. (I know many people speed like this out West, but you are the only one on the road and can see forever. It is still against the law.) Anymore, the rules of the road and of courtesy seem to be suggestions. Suggestions no one is paying attention to. Several bad intersections in area towns now have cameras to record speeders and people who run red lights. So many people are complaining about the tickets they are getting it is ridiculous. They broke the law and got caught. What are they complaining about? Years ago, one of our neighbors was complaining because his son got in trouble for driving an ATV on the main road. The son did not have a license and the vehicle is not for road use. His comment to the sheriff was he and his friends drove all over on motorcycles when they were young and none of them had a license. It was wrong then and is wrong now.

    Sorry for the off topic rant, but with these attitudes, it is not surprising that curtesy is lacking.

    • Hi Pat!

      As always, I find your posts so informative and interesting. That’s interesting what you say about the south because I have found the south to be pretty kind in this regard. I must say I wasn’t used to the “I’m in a hurry and can’t be bothered” attitude that seems to b e a part of this environment.

      But there you go… I do miss the West.

  11. Hi Karen,

    So sorry for your experience. I have to say I think it’s an Eastern thing. When I lived out there I was shocked at the “it’s all about me” attitude. Now, I’m back in Wyoming. I stopped a couple times to take pictures when out driving and always have a few people stop to see if I’m okay.


    • Hi Kirsten!

      I would have to say that I agree. What you talk about is what I’m used to — out West It is so very, very different here. So very, very different, and in truth, I was shocked.

      But there you go…

  12. And speaking as a woman married to a cowboy, he ALWAYS stops to help. And sometimes, even when they don’t seem to need help–like they say someone is coming–he’ll just wait with them and talk as if he doesn’t want them to be lonely.

  13. You know, I’m married to a man who grew up as a cowboy and although we live in the city now, he still does heavy physical work like a cowboy does. He also stops to help — it really is what I’m used to, which made this all the more upsetting.

  14. I’m fairly confident that a lady will always receive help in Arkansas. I’ve never NOT had someone stop when I was pulled over. Sometimes men stop to help other guys, but they’re all about helping the women.

  15. I grew up in the country and my parents made sure when I learned to drive that I knew how to change a tire. Granted, I probably can’t change it as fast as a man, but it’s always useful to not have to depend on someone else if you are stuck out in the middle of nowhere and can’t get help.
    I have had a tow truck driver stop and tow me home for free when my husband’s jeep died on me in a turn lane and wouldn’t start back up and I didn’t have my cell phone on me. That was super nice of him and for FREE! You don’t get that kind of help very much anymore, especially from a business.
    Glad you were okay, though! 🙂

  16. So sorry you had to experience this! I really think times are changing and that many youths are not being brought up with the code of respect and honor that once was the norm. It is a surprise and a treat to have someone act with chivalry or kindness now. So sad. I’m so glad you are safe!

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