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Lesson Twelve


The Kindness of Strangers Mike Mclntyre

Pre-class Work I

Read the text once for the main idea. Do not refer to the notes, dictionaries or the glossary yet.

One summer I was driving from my home town of Tahoe City, Calif, to New Orleans. In the middle of the desert, I came upon a young man standing by the roadside. He had his thumb out and held a gas can in his other hand. I drove right by him. There was a time in the country when you' d be considered a jerk if you passed by somebody in need. Now you are a fool for helping. With gangs, drug addicts, murderers, rapists, thieves lurking everywhere, "I don't want to get involved" has become a national motto.
Several states later I was still thinking about the hitchhiker. Leaving him stranded in the desert did not bother me so much. What bothered me was how easily I had reached the decision. I never even lifted my foot off the accelerator.
Does anyone stop any more? I wondered. I recalled Blanche DuBois's famous line: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." Could anyone rely on the kindness of strangers these days? One way to test this would be for a person to journey from coast to coast without any money, relying solely on the good will of his fellow Americans. What kind of Americans would he find? Who would feed him, shelter him, carry him down the road?
The idea intrigued me.
The week I turned 37, I realized that I had never taken a gamble in my life. So I decided to travel from the Pacific to the Atlantic without a penny. It would be a cashless journey through the land of the almighty dollar. I would only accept offers of rides, food and a place to rest my head. My final destination would be Cape Fear in North Carolina, a symbol of all the fears I'd have to conquer during the trip.
I rose early on September 6, 1994, and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge with a 50-pound pack on my back and a sign displaying my destination to passing vehicles: "America."
For six weeks I hitched 82 rides and covered 4223 miles across 14 states. As I traveled, folks were always warning me about someplace else. In Montana they told me to watch out for the cowboys in Wyoming, In Nebraska they said people would not be as nice in Iowa. Yet I was treated with kindness everywhere I went. 1 was amazed by people's readiness to help a stranger, even when it seemed to run contrary to their own best interests.
One day in Nebraska a car pulled to the road shoulder. When I reached the window, I saw two little old ladies dressed in their Sunday finest." I know you're not supposed to pick up hitchhikers, but it's so far between towns out here, you feel bad passing a person," said the driver, who introduced herself as Vi. I didn't know whether to kiss them or scold them for stopping. This woman was telling me she'd rather risk her life than feel bad about passing a stranger on the side of the road.
Once when I was hitchhiking unsuccessfully in the rain, a trucker pulled over, locking his brakes so hard he skidded on the grass shoulder. The driver told me he was once robbed at knifepoint by a hitchhiker. "But I hate to see a man stand out in the rain," he added. "People don't have no heart anymore."
I found, however, that people were generally compassionate. Hearing I had no money and would take none, people bought me food or shared whatever they happened to have with them. Those who had the least to give often gave the most. In Oregon a house painter named Mike noted the chilly weather and asked if I had a coat. When he learned that I had "a light one," he drove me to his house, and handed me a big green army-style jacket. A lumber-mill worker named Tim invited me to a simple dinner with his family in their shabby house. Then he offered me his tent. I refused, knowing it was probably one of the family's most valuable possessions. But Tim was determined that I have it, and finally I agreed to take it.
I was grateful to all the people I met for their rides, their food, their shelter, and their gifts. But what I found most touching was the fact that they all did it as a matter of course.
One day I walked into the chamber of commerce in Jamestown, Tenn. to find out about camping in the area. The executive director, Baxter Wilson, 59, handed me a brochure for a local campground. Seeing that it cost $12, I replied, "No, that's all right. I'll try something else." Then he saw my backpack. "Most people around here will let you pitch a tent on their land, if that's what you want," he said. Now we're talking, I thought. "Any particular direction?" I asked. "Tell you what. I've got a big farm about ten miles south of here. If you're here at 5:30, you can ride with me."
I accepted, and we drove out to a magnificent country house. Suddenly I realized he'd invited me to spend the night in his home. His wife, Carol, a seventh-grade science teacher, was cooking a pot roast when we walked into the kitchen. Baxter explained that local folks were "mountain stay-at-home people" who rarely entertained in their house. "When we do," he said, "it's usually kin." This revelation made my night there all the more special.
The next morning when I came downstairs, Carol asked if I'd come to their school and talk to her class about my trip. I agreed, and before long had been scheduled to talk to every class in the school. The kids were attentive and kept asking all kinds of questions: Where were people the kindest? How many pairs of shoes did you have? Did anybody try to run you over? Did you fall in love with someone? What were you most afraid of?
Although I hadn't planned it this way, I discovered that a patriotic tone ran through the talks I gave that afternoon. I told the students how my faith in America had been renewed. I told them how proud I was to live in a country where people were still willing to help. I told them that the question I had had in mind when I planned this journey was now clearly answered. In spite of everything, you can still depend on the kindness of strangers.

Read the text a second time. Learn the new words and expressions listed below.


n. a machine used for increasing speed 加速器

n. a drug ~ : a person who cannot stop taking drugs 吸毒成瘾的人;瘾君子

adj. having unlimited power 无所不能的;万能的;~ dollar: taking money as the main goal in life or basis of power 金钱万能的;拜金主义的

adj. giving or paying attention

v. to fill with great surprise

n. a bag carried on the back, often supported by a metal frame, used especially by mountain climbers or walkers 旅行专用背包

n. 刹车

n. a thin book giving information 小册子;介绍材料

n. = California, a state in the U. S. 加利福尼亚

n. a place where people can camp for a small fee 露营地

adj. not having any money

chamber of commerce
an organization or group of people in a particular town or area for the purpose of trade 商会

adj. rather cold

adj. feeling or showing pity or sympathy for other people who need help 有同情心的

v. to defeat or overcome 击败;征服

adj. opposite 相反的

n. a person who looks after cattle in the western parts of the U. S. (美国西部的)牛仔

v. to invite people to one's home for a meal 招待

adj. 执行的;负责的;行政的;an ~ director: 行政长官;此处指商会负责人

n. people

n. a risky action or decision 冒险的事;赌博;take a ~ : to take an action that is risky hoping that it may succeed

n. a group of persons who stick together, especially for criminal or other antisocial purposes

v. = hitchhike: to travel by asking drivers of passing cars for free rides 沿途搭车旅行

n. a person who hitchhikes 沿途搭乘他人便车旅行的人

v. to arouse the interest or curiosity 激起……好奇心

n. a state in the U. S. 衣阿华州

n. 詹姆斯敦(这里指田纳西州的一个城市)

v. to travel

n. (集合名词)relatives 亲戚

n. a building where trees are cut up to make wood 锯木厂

v. to wait quietly and secretly in order to attack 埋伏以便伺机攻击

adj. extremely good, beautiful or impressive 不平凡的;了不起的

n. a state in the U. S. 蒙大拿州

n. a short statement used as a guide of behavior 座右铭

n. a person who unlawfully kills another person

n. a state in the U. S. 内布拉斯加州

New Orleans
n. a city in the U. S. 新奥尔良

North Carolina
n. a state in the U. S. 北卡罗来纳州

n. a state in the U. S. 俄勒冈州

adj. feeling or showing love, support and loyalty to one's country 爱国的

n. 强奸犯

n. willingness or eagerness to do sth.

n. to find sth. again after it has been lost 重新恢复

n. sth. which is made known and was previously unknown 突然显示的事实

v. to take an action, even though it might have unpleasant consequences 冒险

v. to arrange for sth. to be done; to plan that sth. will happen at a particular time

adj. in bad repair or condition 破旧不堪的

v. to provide a place to stay or rest
n. a place where you can stay or rest

v. to suddenly slide sideways and get out of control 滑向一旁

adv. only

adj. unable to move from the place where you are

n. a sign or object which represents an idea or value 象征

n. = Tennessee, a state in the U. S. 田纳西州

the Atlantic
n. 大西洋

the Pacific
n. 太平洋

n. 拇指

n. a truck driver

n. a thing such as a car or bus etc. used for carrying people or things from one place to another 车辆

n. a state in the U. S. 怀俄明州


In Chelsea, Back to Sleep Suzanne Falter-Barns

Suzanne Falter-Barns is a novelist and essayist. Her novel, Doin' the Box Step, was published in 1992. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times, Adweek, and other periodicals. Her essay on a murder on the street outside her apartment in the Chelsea district of Manhattan appeared in the Times on November 25, 1989.

On a cool night recently, a woman was murdered in front of my apartment in Chelsea. She was sleeping in her car when someone—evidently trying to steal her car radio—was surprised by her, and slashed her throat with a knife.
The woman killed was only a few years older than I, and her photograph in the papers was familiar. Many neighbors had seen her coming and going from the Buddhist temple next door, and so she was one of us—another daily face you'd pass, unknown but still part of the surroundings. That she slept in her car was not even surprising, just another thing people do in New York. We regard it with the silence with which one sees everything in this city—the silence of blase acceptance.
Here is the core of the tragedy. An upstairs neighbor, wakened by her car horn, watched from his window as the stabbed woman staggered from her car, made her way up the steps of the temple and rattled the doorknob in vain. In the darkness, he could not see her profuse bleeding, but he could hear her speaking strangely, asking for what sounded like her mother. She was drunk, he assumed, or high, and he watched her make her way back to the car and drive away quickly. She died a few moments later.
Even at 4 o'clock in the morning, on a deserted block in Chelsea, what our neighbor saw did not seem unusual. He had the New York reaction of the 1980's, and assumed she was just another one of the city's huge corps of the deranged, the homeless, the addicted, the drunk. He didn't even consider going downstairs to help her; after all, how many dozens didn't he help just that day? To do so would have taken hours and dollars that cannot be spared, so my neighbor did what any of us would have done. He went back to sleep.
I cannot say I blame him. I was sitting in my living room while the murder took place right in front of my windows. In my sleeplessness, I was drinking hot milk and flipping through a travel magazine, steadfastly ignoring the weird murmurings of the girl outside. In fact, I didn't even think of getting up to see what might be wrong. Years of living in New York City had trained me: The distress you hear is nothing serious. It's only a drunk or a bum.
A few hours later, when the detectives questioned me, I was ashamed to admit what I had heard. Perhaps it wasn't her, but it probably was. If only I hadn't been so smug, if only I'd gone to the window, perhaps I could have done something. The doctor next door says no one could have saved her, but I tell myself I could have held her, or reassured her, or even tried to get a description of the assailant. At least she wouldn't have died so pitifully, ignored by her neighbors because they thought she was a drunk, when in fact, she was looking for help.
That this should be a normal reaction says something about our life here. What begins as compassion, when you first arrive, gets ground to dust by the daily barrage of people dressed in garbage bags, passed out in doorways, making loud, plaintive pitches on the subway or displaying their mutilated limbs in an attempt to get some change. The sheer numbers of these people exhaust the soul. To live here at all, you have to be callous.
The morning after the murder, I washed away the victim's bloodstains that covered the sidewalk; as I did, a stream of people in business clothes walked by, neatly picking their way past the stains, papers and briefcases tucked under their arms. No one seemed to notice or care what I was doing. No one asked what had happened. They averted their eye—avoiding the pain—keeping their mind on more important things. That someone died here was just another incident to file away, another fact of this strange place.