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.