Hannah O'Daniel was a 23-year-old woman alone in a strange city, her car out of gas in a place that seemed to have none.
But two strangers, in a world this week filled with curses and lines over gasoline shortages, appeared to offer help. They might have been angels.
A recent arrival in Rock Hill for a college internship, O'Daniel barely knows the city. She searched for gas on the west side Thursday and finally was in line for gas out on S.C. 5 between Rock Hill and York. Then that station's gas ran out. This lady, Elaine -- last name unknown -- was in line, too, and told her, "Honey, you just follow me."
O'Daniel followed Elaine over toward another station off S.C. 322, miles away, but right there at the stop sign, not only was there no gas at the station, O'Daniel ran out of gas.
"Elaine said to me, 'Get in. If we get stranded, at least we will be stranded together,'" O'Daniel said.
The new friends finally found a line -- hopefully meaning gas -- at a station on Saluda Road near the S.C. 901 intersection. They waited in line, but O'Daniel had no gas can. The store was sold out. Elaine told her to check the corner house -- a relative of Elaine's lived there -- and if that didn't work, just go door-to-door until she found a can.
"Take the Lord with you," Elaine told O'Daniel.
A few knocks on doors later, another stranger in a brick house gave O'Daniel a gas can. She walked back to the station. The plastic bags that mean "No gas" were going up.
O'Daniel thought she was finally ready to cry.
Elaine talked the owner into three emergency gallons for O'Daniel's gas can. Elaine did not ask for any gas for herself. Other customers were raising a stink, yelling, because, of course, they are the only people on Earth who matter. Not this stranded lady from a different place.
O'Daniel got her gas, Elaine took her back to her car. Nobody knows if, or when, Elaine ever got any gas. O'Daniel didn't get Elaine's phone number, or her last name.
"I just know I hope someday to be as good a person as she is," O'Daniel said.
Even as tempers flare and words unsuitable for mixed company flow over the search for gasoline, the best in some of us finds a way to shine.
Down on S.C. 901 south of Rock Hill, Nichols Store had some gas. A few people showed up with gas cans but no cars. They had walked from their cars stopped dead on the side of the road. Store manager Jeff Bolton didn't just get them some gas, he took them back to their cars.
One lady came in panicking and afraid, and Bolton helped her. Her car would take only $40 worth of gas.
"She gave me a $50 bill, said keep the change, and then she said thank you," Bolton said.
Calls for service for tow trucks went through the roof. Not the usual flat tires or thrown motor rods, but people stranded after running out of gas. Christine Shaner of Interstate Towing went out and bought a 100-gallon tank just so her trucks could give a gallon or two to stranded drivers. Stan Hammond of Stan's Towing had his guys stop and give gas to people if they saw somebody.
Several times Thursday and Friday, motorists pulled up at Miller's on S.C. 51 at the North Carolina state line with strangers in their passenger seats.
"We've had strangers buy people gas cans or even just buy their gas," said clerk Eric Owens. "As much as $10 or $15 worth. Some people have been in here and seen somebody walk in with a can and offered to give them a ride to their car or wherever they needed to go."
Oh yeah -- remember that lady who gave O'Daniel the gas can? Well, O'Daniel never got her name, but she could tell me about where she lived. I knocked on doors Friday afternoon in the rain. There was a line at that same Exxon station nearby, so I knew I was close. One door opened. The man who answered the door said it was his mother who gave the stranger the gas can. He called her.
On the phone, there is little doubt I heard what heaven will sound like.
"I know what I would want if I were in that situation," the lady said. "I just helped someone who needed it."
That lady's name is Jane McCrowey. She is 69 years old.
And a 23-year-old occupational therapy intern named Hannah O'Daniel will never forget what she -- and that other stranger named Elaine -- did for her when she was desperate.
The latest on the gas situation
Gas supplies locally should steadily increase over the weekend, according to AAA Carolinas.
Fuel still was scarce around York County on Friday, with prices mostly ranging between $3.76 and $3.99.