It’s a grueling schedule I’ve set for myself: 100 giveaways in 52 weeks. The year’s midway point is on the horizon and sometimes I feel the pressure. That’s how I ended up with a hundred dollar bill in my pocket at PDX (the nation’s #1 airport).
I was headed to Denver for a quick business meeting and arrived in plenty of time. I made the obligatory pilgrimage to The Real Mother Goose for some window-shopping and then to Powell’s to check out the sale racks. I passed by Columbia sportswear and wondered since when clothing had to be marked with a special emblem: “insect proof.” I guess I’ve taken this for granted. Isn’t that a big part of why we’ve been wearing clothes for hundreds of years?
When I started searching in earnest for someone to give the money to, I realized how affluent most everyone looked. Kindles, iPhones and iPads were in abundance. If I’ve learned anything along this journey it’s that appearances can be deceiving. But still, I steered clear of the people I perceived to be particularly well off.
My knitting needles and I made it through the security line without incident. I sat down to put my shoes on and store my various gadgets (iPod, Blackberry, camera and laptop).
I watched a lot of people go by and fell into a sort of meditative state. I was just kind of standing there and probably looked like I was waiting for someone to come out of the bathroom.
Then a couple caught my eye; the man was facing me, his long arms outstretched. A woman I presumed to be his wife was standing near him protectively. I watched as she nodded and then sat down on a nearby bench, a resigned expression on her face. I couldn’t see the TSA agent but realized the man was getting a major pat down.
From where I was standing I couldn’t hear their conversation but I could see the fatigue etched in the man’s face as he patiently turned this way, then that. The agent came into view, gently patting the man’s chest and feeling around his collar and waist. They talked for what seemed like a long time as the woman sat and watched.
Finally the agent was finished and the man slowly walked over to the bench. His wife smiled, a weary look of understanding passing between them. I decided to give them the hundred.
It seemed to take forever. In what seemed like slow motion, the man sat down. He slipped his feet into his shoes, then bent over to tie them. He stood up to get his belt on, passing it through the first loop before his wife reached over to help. I watched them chuckle as she reached her arms around and behind him, giving him a little squeeze.
Finally, they were on their way down the concourse. The man walked slowly, with a pronounced limp, and it didn’t take me long to catch up with them.
“It looks like you sure got a once-over,” I said with a smile. They both looked at me, a bit surprised but happy enough to talk. “Oh, I get it every time,” the man said. “You get used to it.” I couldn’t see what would be threatening about this elderly gentleman.
“He’s got a heart implant,” his wife explained. She tapped her own chest, as if she could feel it humming there, too. “And two artificial knees. He always sets off the alarm.”
“Where are you headed?” I asked. The man turned to me. “Salt Lake City. We live in Ogden. You?”
I told them I was going to Denver for business, and that I live in Portland. Then I tried to get my story out but ended up kind of stumbling all over it. I said something about giving a gift in honor of my mother, and hoping they would take it home with them.
“I don’t think I’ll take it,” the man said, after a thoughtful pause. “Why not?” I asked. “Well, you never know, these days. Someone gives you something and you don’t know what it is or where it came from.”
I guess accepting a mysterious gift from a stranger in an airport isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I took the bill out of my pocket and showed it to him. “It’s this, just this,” I said. He took it and studied it, turning it over in his hand a few times.
“Now, what am I supposed to do with this?” he asked, giving me a hard look I’ve seen once or twice before. I tried to explain a little more about what I was doing but I was less articulate than usual. Eventually, though, he seemed to catch on. “I’ll give it to someone,” he decided. I asked if he had someone special in mind and he said he did.
They told me their names: Sharon and Gordon. Turns out they have a lifetime pass to the Sky Lounge. We said goodbye at the door. Gordon shook my hand and thanked me. “I’ll do something good with this; I promise.”
I know you will. And thank you, sir.
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