A Rest Area StorySubmitted by Ed Ucation on Wed, 01/15/2014 - 02:17
I pulled off the interstate into a rest area. It was chilly and the rain was coming on strong. It was also 2:30 in the morning. I figured it was time for a nap. But first I had to answer the call of nature.
On the way back to the car, I see a guy waving and calling at me. I turned and he saw that I saw him. Too late, I acknowledged him, I thought. The unspoken and universal rules of human interaction dictate that I hear him out. Even though I knew what this is about. I knew he was going to ask me for money.
When he reached polite stranger conversation distance, about three feet from me, I looked him over. He was obviously not homeless. He had a cigarette in his right hand, and a bag of food in his left. I thought I saw baby food in the bag. Ok, so this is gonna be one of those 'I just ran out of gas stories.' I prepare my rejection face.
He is talking fast. The words are coming at me faster than I can absorb them. By the time my brain catches up, his face is full of hurt. I catch a sentence here and there:
"Cruel, heartless people around here....Get a job, he tells me. Well, I had a job, but then I lost it....Right now I am just trying to get home..... So I've been coming back here every hour, but I ain't seen anyone........My two year old daughter.....Gotta here some food into her."
"Slow down. Where is your car?" I ask him.
"It's about 1 mile near that bridge over there. My wife and kids are in the car."
"So you need money for gas? Where are you going to get gas?"
"Look, see that light over there? That's a convenience store and the guy told me he would sell me a five gallon can with gas, but he can't leave the store to help me."
This guy is good, I think. He has obviously done this before. I've heard this story before. It's an old scam. If you cared to make a study of it, I bet he would be back here next week, again out of gas, with a bag of baby food for his 2 year old daughter. He might even have a 2 year old daughter. But he is out here in the rain. That's dedication. And he sure is convincing. I look at his face again.
Man, that face is full of hurt and desperation. It's full of cynicism for the heartless human race. It's full of weariness. It's full of hope. Either that, or he is a great actor, and it's full of shit. What do I do here? I just know he is scamming me. See, I've run out of gas before. A cop came along and put a gallon of gas in the tank for me, so I could get home. It was one of the few times in my life that a cop has helped me out. But I've also run out of gas with no one around, and had to walk for miles to get help. But that was before cell phones. Does this guy not have a cell phone?
So I know he is scamming me, but I am not sure. Do I take that chance? It's late and I am tired. Do I blow him off, like I would do to one of his lesser-skilled brethen, or do I help him? Do I want to take the chance that he is for real and that I turned away another human being in need?
I gave him four dollars. I just didn't want to take the chance that he was for real. I bought piece of mind for four dollars. I didn't want to sit in my car and wonder, what if he was for real? Of course, if I KNEW he really needed help, I would have given him more. It wasn't about the four dollars. Screw the money. I just hate feeling like I was scammed.
"Here, I hope this helps you out," I said as I handed him the money. He thanked me and walked off.
That'w what I told him. Here is what I wish I had told him:
"Here, take this. I don't know if your story is true, because I have heard this game before. Many times. But I choose to believe you. Not because I am a sucker, but because I don't want to take the chance that I didn't help out another human being. I think people naturally want to help others out. But there are parasites out there that prey on this tendency and take advantage of the natural goodness of people. And that stunts the goodness. When someone is scammed, they turn from their nature. And then people turn away from each other.
I hope that's not you. And I hope that if that is you, that you have a change of heart. I hope you look within and find that place you went to when you were a kid, that made you want to improve the world. In any case, don't wait for your fortunes to change. Open your heart and make something of yourself. Become someone that inspires others. Learn to stand on your own two feet. Find that place inside you that makes you shine. It's there. If you can't feel it, reach deeper. And then bring it out so others can see the glow."
Perhaps next time I will be prepared with such a monologue.
Thanks for reading my Four Dollar Story.