Jimmy Montenieri braved Charlotte’s dangerous streets Thursday morning, only because his aunt needed medicine and his mom needed groceries.
The ice and snow kept him from completing either mission, however.
Instead, Montenieri found himself among the many Charlotteans who became good Samaritans for the day, helping drivers who got stuck, slid off roads, or couldn’t get the car started.
“I helped two people. One was a guy that didn’t speak any English. I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying, but I know he was grateful that somebody stopped,” said Montenieri, 37, who lives in south Charlotte.
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Why did Montenieri stop?
“It was the right thing to do. This was a minor storm compared to stuff like Hurricane Sandy, but helping each other is what you’re supposed to do. Big storm or small storm, we should all stop,” he said.
Brian Herbst of the Cotswold area said he saw that kind of spirit displayed during Charlotte’s most challenging moment of the storm – the massive Wednesday afternoon traffic backup on Independence Boulevard.
It made national news. And social media suggested Charlotte had become another Atlanta, where thousands of cars were stranded in a storm last month.
Herbst, 31, was worried about that happening to him, so he turned off his car for extended periods to save what eventually became about an eighth of a tank of gas.
That was when the police caught his attention.
“There were probably eight to 12 cops at the top of the hill, running from car to car, pushing stuck vehicles free, and then heading to the next car that was inevitably stuck. Between each helpless vehicle, they directed traffic,” recalled Herbst.
Other volunteers soon began to join in, some of them commuters who got out of their cars and others who appeared to be residents of a nearby neighborhood, Herbst said.
“Without these individuals reacting for the greater good, while standing outside in the cold for hours, that one- to two-hour traffic jam could have turned into another Atlanta. It was incredible what they did,” he said.
Joyce Gorman of Charlotte saw it, too.
“The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department went beyond the call of duty,” Gorman said. “I have no idea who they are, but it is not something I expect a police officer to do and I, for one, think they need to be commended for it.”
Matt Speed, 26, of Charlotte’s NoDa area, said he was among those who feared being stuck Wednesday night in uptown, where he works at a restaurant. His Honda Civic was trapped by the snow and ice in the parking lot of an uptown business and couldn’t be moved.
Speed said he and some friends gathered at an uptown nightspot with no clear plan in mind, when he met someone willing to take him in for the night.
“A nice girl named Tatianna,” said Speed, grinning as he waited for a bus home Thursday morning.
“I’m from Ohio and I have to say this is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Charlotte did a good job.”