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To the people of Amherst and Williamsville, I say "thank you."

When my car broke down on I-290 on the evening of July 17, I was introduced to your town and village through acts of kindness and generosity from several individuals that left me in such awe I couldn't wait to get home to write this letter.

Never in my life have I encountered people more friendly and so fully dedicated to the service of helping others. Here's what happened:

At about 11:30 p.m. on Friday, July 17, heading west on I-290 toward Niagara Falls in my slowly rusting '86 Honda Accord, my car hit a bump near the Delaware Avenue exit ramp. It caused -- or so I thought at the time -- a flat in my left-rear tire.

As I worked on the car on the side of the highway, two state patrolmen, at separate times, stopped to assist me. Each offered to call a tow truck or give me a ride. I declined help from both officers because I thought I could fix the problem. One gave me, in the event I couldn't fix the car, detailed directions to the Honda Village dealership in Williamsville.

After I discovered that the upper control arm -- a necessary piece in stabilizing suspension and wheel alignment -- had broken, I walked about a half mile to the Mobil station. At the Mobil station, I asked the lone station attendant, a friendly young woman, for a phone book and the name of the nearest towing company. Another customer in the store asked what I was looking for and offered a suggestion. The smiling station attendant offered a cordless phone so I could make a free call.

I called Frank Brown's Towing. Frank and his 8-year-old son then spent the next hour and a half with me, getting my car, driving it to the Honda dealership in Williamsville (14 miles away), and then, amazingly, giving me rides to two hotels.

The first hotel we stopped at in Williamsville indicated there were vacancies. But Frank and his son both got out of the truck and followed me to the motel registration office. "We'll come with you to check," Frank said. A sign on the window said "No Rooms," and after confirming the no-vacancy sign with the motel clerk, I was relieved Frank was still with me. He then drove me to the Econolodge Hotel a mile down the street, which had vacancies.

It was about 2 a.m. and thus far, every person I had come in contact with had offered or given me assistance.

But it wasn't over.

The next morning I called the Honda dealership and talked to Tim, a customer-service representative. Tim said he had seen my car in the lot, had an idea what the problem was and asked if he could get the key from me. Oops.

"Oh, gee, you need that, do you?" I said jokingly.

I told him I'd be there in a half hour, the time it would take me to walk.

Downstairs at the Econolodge reservation desk the manager, Cindy, then continued the phenomenal trend of offering assistance. After I asked if there was an Econolodge shuttle that could take me to the dealership, she asked, "Where's your car being fixed?" I told her where and she said, "C'mon, I'll give you a ride."

I had given her no indication that I wanted or needed assistance. She offered it completely out of good will. So, after a two-minute trip, I was at the Honda Village dealership.

Tim, at the service center of Honda Village, was surprised to see me so quickly. Nevertheless, he immediately took my key, drove the car into the garage and had the mechanic look at it. The mechanic said the car would be ready by the early afternoon."

I decided at that point -- assuming at least a two-hour wait -- to get something to eat. So I walked across the street to the Golden Corral, a buffet-style restaurant.

There I was greeted by a waitress named Molly. After I displayed my ignorance of buffet protocol, Molly said, "Pay here. Then sit in my section and I'll show you how it's done."

She walked me to a table and explained how the buffet works. But before I could get started, Molly asked, "So what happened to your car?"

I explained. Then she said, "Well, you can stay here as long as you like and I'll bring you whatever you need." Molly came by every five to 10 minutes to bring me a new plate, or a new drink or simply just to talk. Around noon, I returned to the Honda dealership and discovered, to my amazement, that my car had been completed an hour earlier.

I couldn't have written it better. The perfect ending to a perfect event. It all goes down in my book as "the day my faith in humanity was restored."

In Amherst and Williamsville, I met people who helped not just because they were being paid to provide service, but because they were genuinely interested in my plight and wanted to help.

In Amherst and Williamsville, service appears to be part of the mindset, done not for profit but because humanity and civility still have a hold on the townspeople. I can only hope that there are other towns in this country that are just as friendly and helpful.

Thank you for the experience.

ROB KRAFT lives in Ypsilanti, Mich.
For guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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