Been a busy couple of weeks at work. Logged nearly 80 hours last week. And 42 so far this week. And, yes, it's only Tuesday. Tuesday night, sure. But still, it's only Tuesday.
Anyway, I'm tired. I'm grumpy. And my head hurts.
When I left work tonight, the car told me it needed gas. Okay, it didn't say anything. But the words "FUEL LEVEL IS LOW" came on. And, if the car thinks it needs gas, it needs gas.
So, I ran up to one of the gas stations downtown, got out, and put $49.46 worth in the car. Put it on the card, since I don't carry cash.
That gas station, which has a Subway on one side and a Taco Bell on the other is a haven for the homeless, the downtrodden, the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse ...
You get the idea.
So, I don't carry cash. Just plastic.
Got gas, then crossed the street to McDonald's. Got in the drive-thru line and waited for the line to slowly move along.
Right as I got to the speaker to place my order, a bum walked up.
Now, why do I say he was a bum?
First impression. They're not always right. Sometimes they are. Let's see how right my first impression was.
"Excuse me, sir?"
I rolled the window down. "Yes?"
"Do you have a set of jumper cables?"
I thought for a second. I used to carry a set of cables in the old car. And I didn't think I had them in the new car.
"No, I don't -- hang on. I might. Let me check"
I pulled up, ordered my Quarter Pounder with Cheese meal, moved forward, jumped out, popped the trunk, and checked.
There they were.
"Yes, sir, I do have a set."
He stuttered, "Oh, uh, oh oh, uh uh uh. I'm I'm I'm about four blocks down. Can you give me a jump?
He walked around to the passenger door, opened the door, sat down, and buckled up.
I pulled forward, and was next in line to pay for my order.
"Sir, sir, sir, I do appreciate this. I do."
He offered my his hand. We shook hands.
"Not at all."
I pulled up to the window, gave the young lady my card, and he told me about his surgery.
"I had cancer surgery here," he said, as he raised his shirt to show me the scar running from chest to navel.
The lady at the window asked me about my name. She'd seen it before. I wasn't sure what to say, other than, "Yes, ma'am, there's a couple of folks with a similar name."
She was telling me about her being from Florida and a fellow from down there with a name like mine ran for county commission or something. Meanwhile my rider was showing me his leg surgery. I'm not saying much. Although the conversation about the county commissioner sounded more promising. Especially since, on a visit to Florida, I remember seeing signs the guy had up when he was running.
I thanked the lady, my rider thanked me again, and shook my hand.
Pulled up to the window to actually get the food. Put it on the floor behind the seat and pulled forward, towards the exit.
"Which way is your car?"
"Uh, um, uh, it's about four blocks that way," he said, pointing down Veteran's Parkway toward the Civic Center.
I pulled around and went out the back entrance in order to face my car towards his.
"About how far?" I asked when we got back to Veterans.
"About three or four blocks," he said. "I do thank you for this, mister."
He proceeded to tell me about his cancer surgery meaning he couldn't get work, since he's now a risk. I guess he has the cancer that's catching.
As we approached the three block mark, he asked me if I was a mechanic.
"No, sir, I'm not. Don't know much about cars."
"I left the lights on yesterday and the battery died. I jumped it off, but it keeps dying. I don't think it'll work and I need to see if you can take me over to where I'm staying."
"Where's that?" I asked.
"You know where the Wal-mart is in Phenix City?"
I did. Actually, The Wife knows exactly where every Wal-mart in a 500 mile radius is. But I didn't tell him that. I just said I thought I knew where it was.
So, I kept heading south on Veterans, turning right at the Civic Center, pointing the car in the direction of Phenix City.
In four more blocks, we were crossing the river into Alabama, heading to the Wal-mart in Phenix City, which was, he said, near where he lived.
He appreciated this. And he shook my hand.
"You don't seem like a prejudiced man," he said.
"Did you ever used to be?"
He clarified. "Oh, I know you're not a prejudiced man now. I can tell that. Did you ever used to be?"
"No, sir, I wasn't brought up that way. I've know folks that are that way, including some family members. But not my immediate family," I said.
"I can't afford to be prejudiced," he said.
"None of us can," I began.
"Two white folks saved my life when I was a kid," he continued.
He explained about being out in a boat, fishing for bream with a cane pole. Then something about his mama all upset because he was in the boat so far from shore, and she asked these two white men to help out.
"They could have thought, 'Let the nigger die, there'll be one less of them,' but they didn't. The helped get me back to shore," he told me. "So I can't afford to be prejudiced."
"Yeah, well, we all got to..." I began.
"I do appreciate the ride. I been staying back over in Columbus, just out of the hospital, having cancer surgery, and cain't work."
"Yeah, cancer's rough. And cancer surgery is rough. At best, it's still surgery. And that's not good," I said.
"You're right. And I appreciate your helping me out," he said. And shook my hand.
I got to hear more about the boss man who he was working for laying him off after the surgery. Last hired, first hired.
I understood. And I did, having worked construction in the past. And he appreciated that. And shook my hand.
We got near the Wal-mart in Phenix City, and I asked, "Just at the door?"
"Yeah, that's fine," he said. Then told me about a church he went to for help and they made him fill out paperwork to make sure he was telling the truth. And he filled out paperwork for food stamps, he said, but that took several weeks.
"This okay?" I asked, as we got to the door.
"Yeah, this fellow I know said I could stay with him if I got $150 to help out with the groceries," he said. "I can tell you're an honest man, and you'll help out someone. God puts us here to help each other out, dontcha think?"
"Oh, yeah, the Lord knows what He's doing, even if we don't."
"Can you help me out? I need some money so I can help with the groceries," he asked.
I told him, "I always use cards, don't carry cash. I might have ... let me see ..." And I reached into my pocket, pulling out every bit of cash money I had. One dollar and 51 cents.
"That's all I got," I said.
"Can't you pull some money out on your credit card?"
"No, I can't get a cash advance on my Visa credit card," I said. And that's true. It's not set to draw cash. That's what my Mastercard is for. But I didn't tell him that.
"I just need enough for a hotel room for the night."
"That's all the money I got. I can't get cash on that Visa credit card. That's all I can do."
He sat quietly for a second or two.
"I thank you." He opened the door, slamming it as he walked away. And he didn't shake my hand.