Berlin perches on the Androscoggin River, where paper mills once operated. Here in the mills, scientists also invented Crisco and saran wrap. Photo from

Until two nights ago I knew very little about Berlin, New Hampshire. I knew that paper mills built the city and that the demise of the paper industry in the Northeast almost killed it. I knew it’s a small city in the northern reaches of the White Mountains that struggles for an economic base. Now I also know that people in Berlin take care of each other in ways I have never witnessed before.

We were driving through Berlin after dinner with friends. It was 9:30 or 10 p.m. on a weeknight. A nondescript sedan in front of us was weaving terribly. It drifted into the opposite lane almost into an oncoming car. The headlights didn’t phase this driver. Then he or she zagged back to the right and slowed down to about 10 mph on a main thoroughfare. We decided to pull over and let the car put some distance between us. But it was hard to let that happen when it crawled so slowly. A pickup truck passed us and got ahead of the weaving car, then stopped. A second one pulled around us and behind. A third drove up alongside. A man stepped out of the first pickup and walked over to the car they’d trapped in place. A second got out of one of the others. The two men calmly leaned down and opened the car door. We drove by and could see seated in the driver’s seat an older woman looking straight ahead. The men talked to her. It looked as if they were going to help her out and figure out what to do next.

I have never seen anything like this before: citizens preventing a bad accident, treating a driver who seemed a menace with kindness. Clearly something had happened — perhaps a blackout, or a stroke, or too much to drink. Whatever it was, these men took responsibility for their surroundings.

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