ST. PETERSBURG — On an ominously gray morning, with dark, puffy clouds racing across the sky and meteorologists warning of tornadoes, Cindy B. Smith pulled in to the tire store to deal with a leaky valve stem.
"You know what it's like when you walk in one of those stores. You know they're going to find all kinds of things that are wrong. I just told them, I cannot afford to buy a tire. Period."
The tire was still holding air, but only because her boyfriend jammed paper into the valve stem to slow the leak.
"It's probably going to be about an hour and a half," said the blond, broad-shouldered man at the Tire Kingdom store at 16th Street and 15th Avenue N.
"That's fine. I have nowhere to go,'' said Smith, 46, having already dropped off her 7-year-old son at school.
Smith, a St. Petersburg native, was laid off in January from an educational software company. A University of Florida graduate, she taught special education for several years at Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg. She has been monitoring the job market, firing out resumes, but has had no luck so far.
Twenty minutes later, as Smith sat in the waiting room, reading the newspaper and watching TV reports about the bad weather, the big guy re-emerged.
"I moved you up in line. Don't want you out in the bad weather," he said.
"That was so sweet of you," Smith said. "What do I owe you?"
The big guy smiled.
"No, really, how much do I owe you?"
He smiled again.
"Someday, maybe you'll need tires," he said. "And maybe you'll come back."
Tears in her eyes, Smith managed to say something about "making my day," then walked out into the gray morning.
"There are so many good people in the world who truly do good things and don't expect anything in return," Smith said.
''Maybe sometimes we need to look within ourselves to find that something so insignificant to me might mean the world to somebody else."