I got a lot of comments and emails in response to my last post. Thank you all for letting this story into your heart, painful as it is. I thought of Carrie today as I was driving around; although it wasn’t snowing the weather was windy, cold and wet. Every corner seemed to be occupied by misery. Scattered people in ponchos were hunched over on the sidewalk. Near the freeway a guy with a kid’s umbrella shaped like a duck’s head was holding a sign saying, “Even pennies help.” His eyes were closed and I could tell his cheap canvas shoes were soaked.
I was trying to imagine how pennies could help this man and felt myself sinking into despair. I imagined him carrying his orange duck bill umbrella upside down and overflowing with pennies. Perhaps he was asleep; with a lot of practice it seemed possible to sleep standing up. Maybe he was dreaming of an umbrella full of pennies, or just hoping to sleep until May and better weather.
I was almost back to my office when I noticed that the car in front of me,Â an Oldsmobile station wagon with out-of-state plates,Â had a flat rear tire. Seriously flat. They put their turn signal on and I thought they were going to pull into a parking lot, which seemed like a good idea. Then they changed their mind and drove up to the corner where they turned right, directly in front of my office building. It occurred to me that maybe they didn’t know they had a flat.
I decided to follow the car and get them to pull over. I couldn’t pull up next to them because of the other cars, so I planned to jump out when we came to a red light. At one point they stopped and I made my move, only to find myself standing in the middle of the street as the light changed and the station wagon moved on. A couple of times they went through the intersection on yellow and I whizzed through behind them. I started thinking maybe they were criminals on the lam.
Finally the light turned red right in front of them. This was my chance. I jumped out of my car and ran up to the window. “Hey, you know you have a really flat tire?” I shouted to the woman in the driver’s seat. Next to her was a man eating a corn dog. She rolled the window down. “Thanks, I know. We don’t have a spare. I’m just trying to make it to the tire place a few blocks up.”
I wasn’t totally sure where they were headed, but they were going in the wrong direction from the only tire place I could think of. The old car was wobbling and the rim seemed about to come loose any minute. I decided to continue after them. Maybe call AAA when the tire fell off. About a mile down the road they pulled into a discount brake and tire place I’ve passed a gazillion times. Then it dawned on me that I had found a home for my next C-note.
I pulled in next to them and got out of the car. The woman looked at me, puzzled. “I know, I’m crazy following you here, right?” I said. “You just wanted to make sure we were okay?” she asked. “Yeah, how could you even drive on that?” I said, and it came out wrong, kind of accusatory. I saw the woman stiffen a bit and she turned away. “I need to talk to this guy,” she said, as one of the workers came up to the car. Apparently they had just bought new tires at this place a week ago.
I was still standing there while they finished their business. The rain was coming down in a steady drizzle. They were watching me, clearly confused and a bit uncomfortable. “So, I know this sounds weird, but I have something I’d like to give you. It’s kind of a pay-it-forward thing.” “O..kay..,” said the woman, still unsure. My usually reassuring manner wasn’t having its desired effect.
Somewhat awkwardly, I held the bill out to the woman. “Oh, no,” she said. “You don’t have to do that!” “I know,” I answered. “It’s a gift.” The woman was starting at me. “Well, that is completely absurd,” she said. “I just don’t feel comfortable with that.” I explained a little more about what I was doing and why. Gradually, she softened. At some point I realized she was holding the C-note but I couldn’t remember when she had taken it.
I got to hear just a little of their story. Cheryl and her brother Paul moved out here recently from the midwest. That must have been some drive. They’ve been bouncing around a lot, which explained all the stuff piled up in the back of the car. Cheryl said she’s an artist and gave me her card. I visited her website, not knowing what to expect. I don’t want to spoil the surprise: check it out yourself. And prepare to be amazed.
We all shook hands and parted friends. I told them that Portland is a great place where wonderful and unexpected things happen all the time.
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So sweet of you to be so concerned and to keep following them in the miserable rain! I am sure she will remember that the rest of her life.
If any one deserved it they did. It was so nice of you to follow them to make sure they made it to a tire shop. I looked at her web site and was very impressed with what she does.
I got a little behind in my blog following, Jill, and I missed the last one, which I just finished. And I went and looked at the website you mentioned above. Absolutely amazing scarves! Glad she is making it through the transition, she will be fine, eventually. Your C-note won’t hurt a bit. 🙂
Thank you! Nice to see you! I agree that Cheryl’s stuff is amazing, and that she will do great here. Jill
Little grants to a woman on food stamps, a homeless waif, and a gifted artist. And good stories about each one.
Thank you, Berta!