Lend a helping hand… from a distance, of course

On my way home tonight, tired, I pulled up to a stoplight and waved with a shake of my head to a young guy slightly shaking a small red gas can toward me in an almost greeting. As I come to a full stop, I hear him say aloud, “I’m not even asking for any money.”

I crack the passenger window – automatic in my just-picked-up new car!!! – a bit and ask him for what he is asking. He tells me he just needs a ride, his bike was towed, and he’s been trying to get help for hours.

I wasn’t sure about the scenario… I’ve always ridden with the tow truck when having a vehicle towed. Perhaps he parked illegally and had the bike towed.

“Where are you needing to go?” I ask him.

“Just 45 and the beltway,” he says, as though that isn’t a half-hour drive away by highway.

“North or south?”

“South.”

Yup. Half an hour. And in the opposite direction of my home.

I nyackered, and don’t want to be driving for another hour. He is also looking rather sweaty and I just picked up this brand new car. I don’t exactly want a sweaty person in it ever, but especially not at this moment. Not that that would be my reason to deny helping him, but it is a factor. Really, I don’t want to spend half an hour in any car with this unknown kid/guy. His desperation makes his space a little rough and hard to read.

“I’d even give you money like an Über… that’s really all I need.” He has kept talking, but I’ve not been paying full attention to his words.

“What kind of bike do you have?”

“A Suzuki,” he says.

“Yeah, but what kind?”

He tells me some numbers… perhaps a 300 something?… I drive a 300cc Vespa…, so that isn’t a very hefty bike, if that’s what he said… No, he didn’t say 300, but I don’t know what he said…

I didn’t really listen to his words – just that they were the right kind of words, naming an actual type of motorcycle, and hey had no hesitation to them. They were simply a statement in response to a question. And that’s what I wanted.

The light had turned green.

“Shit,” I say, and I pause just a moment before saying, “I’ll meet you at the gas station.” I point as I say this to the gas station on the corner, through the intersection where I was stopped. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to do, but I would figure it out without the pressure of a green light and cars waiting behind me.

Seconds later, as I pulled into the lot, I knew I would get him an Über. I didn’t really want to be alone with him – after all, I was then parking in a specifically lighted area next to the building of the gas station, because his vibe was just enough off that I wanted to stay in the light and visible with him around – and I had the added aspects of exhaustion and keeping the car clean.

When he made it over to me, I was leaning on the hood of my car, pulling up Über on my phone. I knew there was a reason I kept this app on my phone, and even logged it back in. Thank you, Universe, World, and God for that.

I pulled up where he wanted to go – and yes, it was 27 minutes away – and ordered a car for him. Why didn’t he just order one himself? He apparently left his phone in his bike. The bike whose carburetor had blown, requiring it to be towed. He had just grabbed his stuff out of the bike in a hurry and let it go, not realizing until afterward that his phone was still with it.

He looked disheveled enough and carried the right odd mixture of bags for this to be believable. Trust me, when I have unexpectedly had to stop somewhere while on my bike (Vespa), I have definitely walked inside with the oddest-looking set of “baggage”.

I didn’t see a helmet with him, but I didn’t want to find out that he rode without one, and a small part of me didn’t want to tear apart his story enough to disprove it. His desperation to get home was real, and that, apparently, was enough for me. Whether his story was true or not, I appreciated his effort in making it all up and having details enough to go with it. Though, in full frankness, he did not strike me as someone to come up with much backstory detail when trying to pull a fast one on somebody. I mean no offense by that statement. Most people wouldn’t come up with much backstory in a scenario ahead of time. So, I was hoping he was in the most people category, and so was just genuinely telling the truth (or, at least, his version of it). But, just in case, I didn’t want to find out that he wasn’t. So, I didn’t ask about the helmet, nor did I ask any further questions. I knew what I needed to know: He needed help, and he was grateful to have found it.

He said he had been there for hours, trying to get help from somebody. Obviously that was to no avail until I stopped for him. I didn’t mention to him that he was in the wrong neighborhood for looking as he did, and expecting someone to pick him up and drove him half an hour away… or anywhere at all. This was a Mercedes and Tesla and Range Rover neighborhood around us right now. They don’t give people rides off the side of the road. But they might give you a dollar or few just for standing there.

If I hadn’t picked up the new car, and had been in my old one, it would have made sense that I had stopped. I in my crappy-looking 2002 Hyundai, with duct tape and peeled paint all over the place, crank windows, and only three door handles that work… it would have been obvious that I didn’t belong in that neighborhood’s genre of people, had I been in that car. But I had just picked up the new one, the one I am leasing, and so I almost seemed to fit into the crowd of shiny expensive cars all around. Nonetheless, I was not one of them, and the fact that I stopped and invested my time (and money) into this kid showed as much (to me, anyway).

I was proud of the fact that I had grown up in that neighborhood, yet was the one who was willing to stop to help, to give my time to someone in need, in a sudden desperate situation. Even though I didn’t wasn’t to mess with it, I found myself doing it anyway, because it just felt necessary for this poor kid’s sake.

I think he was in college, at the University of Houston, because he was wearing a UofH mask and had something else I don’t specifically recall that made him seem like a student there. He also had the physical look and mental space of a college student, or someone very near that age, anyway. He spoke on the younger side of life, not as a college graduate. I think he thought I was the same age, and not over half as much more. But that was okay.

He shared of his concern that Coronavirus was keeping people away, scared to help him. Had my life changed much because of the virus? I told him an extremely brief version of my running incident the other week, and how the people were too afraid to help me as I lay in the road. But, otherwise, my life wasn’t all that different than pre-Coronavirus.

He told me about his name on Facebook while we waited for the car, and I smiled at the genuine sweetness. He was clearly grateful, and he was relieved beyond explanation. There was no denying that.

As he was getting into the Über, he reminded me to ‘”send that request”. I smiled and said comfortably that I probably wouldn’t. He smiled back and said, “Okay,” not so much disappointed as understanding of my honesty and my lack of desire to send him a friend request on Facebook.

Man sieht sich immer zweimal im Leben.

If it is meant to be, our paths will cross again at some point, at least once more.

Twenty-nine minutes later, after I’d gotten home and was already getting ready for bed, about to shower, I received the notification that my Über ride was completed. He had been dropped off right by a gas station that is at the entrance to a neighborhood, and not just at the mall, as he had told me to input for the ride. It was only a few streets from the mall, but on the other side of the highway. I think he probably lives in the neighborhood there, and the driver offered to take him more to where he was going than just the mall as a whole, and on the opposite side of the highway. I was glad to see that. And relieved.

What an adventure, eh? And all I did was go home, and be nice along the way. It cost me only a few minutes of my time and $29.93. Whatever the guy’s real story, I was glad to have been able to help him get where he needed to be. Yes, that is a lot more money to me than to most people. But it felt right and worth it to pay for this kid’s ride home. For whatever reason, he was desperate and needed it. And I had it, and wasn’t desperate.

“Just pay it forward, okay?” He seemed slightly confused, probably thinking I meant actual money for the Über driver. “Do something to help someone else now.” And he understood, both that I wasn’t expecting him to pay me or the driver anything, and that I wanted him to pay forward the kindness.

And that felt right.

So, I’ll see ya when I see ya, Alfred. I hope you get yourself more organized and at ease by then than you were tonight, and I wish you all the best going forward.

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