Fool me once …

Last summer I was leaving RTP for the flight home to the Cape and did my obligatory 3:30 pm quick stop at the Shell station on the corner of Rte 54 and Miami Blvd. to top off the tank and spare myself the $9 per gallon gouging the rental car agencies hit the clueless with when they return with less than a brimming tank.

I popped into the mini-mart for a bottle of water. On my return to the car a nice looking lady towing a forlorn looking six-year old came up to me and told me a roadside story of woe.

“I hate to bother you but my son and I are traveling to Fayetteville to see my husband who is home on leave and our car has broken down and AAA would only tow us as far as this gas station and we need money to get the alternator replaced but Traveler’s Aid won’t give anything but a reference to a battered woman’s shelter….”

She started crying. Honest to sadness tears of frustration and heat. She totally convinced me. Nailed me. Me, the man who knows how to repel Manhattan bums with Churbuckian mind bullets. A guy who tells panhandlers on the subway: McDonalds is Hiring.

I gave her a twenty. Her face lit up. She was happy. I was happy. I’ve never parted with more than buck in the past, but a twenty? I drove away thinking: “Dude, you just got taken down.” But I felt Christian and all eelemosynary and Mr. Pay-It-Forward-Like. It felt good. I felt special.
Tonight, same Shell Station. Get out of the car. See a van that looks like rolling squalor. Think immediately of last summer’s charitable act and think, “Nah. Not twice. No way.”

Get a bottle of water, pay, come out. Dawdle a little bit in opening the water, swallow an Advil, tempting the fates to bring out the Ambrose Bierce that runs deep within us all.

I’m standing right next to the van of squalor and nothing happens. I unlock the door. Get it, start up, turn around to back out and …

There she stood. Same kid. Same face. Only this time the window between was closed and was going to stay closed.

I flipped her the bird, let her read my lips, and drove away. She didn’t bat an eye, just moved onto the next mark, knowing she had hit the same well twice.
And I was twenty dollars poorer none the same and vowing to launder my charitable contributions through the United Way from now on.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “Fool me once …”

  1. Mark Hopkins and I had a similar experience at a Bojangles near Garner. One weekend we stopped for lunch after one of our never ending projects and this guy comes out of no where looking pretty homeless. He had a great story about being left there when his friend and girl friend drove off leaving him stranded. We found some change to give him and went in to get lunch. The next weekend we stopped at Bojo’s again and out of nowhere appears the same “homeless” guy starting on us with the same story. Yah – right – heard it last weekend – get lost.

    Jim

  2. She’s not genuine? Damn! $10 wasted here. You need to post something on the back of the loo doors to warn people with her photo – so no more of us fall for it.

  3. There was a guy in LA whose standard line was an impassioned “three *days* I haven’t eaten!” I saw him in two different parts of town delivering the same line in exactly the same way, separated by a couple of years.

  4. This must be a new variation on the “I have a flat tire and my car a couple blocks down and I need $40 to get it fixed.” hustle. They are stepping their game up, at least she had a vehicle to add to the story. In my case, since it was a male approaching me, and night time, I demurred.

  5. I try to never look back on acts of charity or even think twice.

    You did the right thing the first time regardless of her disingenuous solicitation.

    Think of the kid.

    My favorite motto is “There are no victims only volunteers” but the one exception is when children are involved.

    Maybe another $20 would have helped and I doubt that it would have been that missed.

  6. John,
    You’re right. I chided myself for doubting her the first time, but I was a little embarrassed I saw it coming again last night. And no, another $20 wouldn’t have been lost.

    Twenty years ago, while traveling in a very poor country, my wife was chided for giving money to the beggars, with our host arguing that it was all a scam and she was reinforcing it. So, she bought food — bananas, stuff like that — and offered the food instead.

    It was always rejected.

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