On Tuesday night, I was on the edge of town at 9 p.m. pumping gas at a station. I heard a voice from the street call out, “Hey, mister – I’ll give you $5 if you give me a ride down town.”
I am easily mistaken for a man with my shorn hair, hat and bulky coat. Perhaps he would not have even asked me if he knew I was a woman. But I was annoyed. I turned towards him with a semi-scowling face, not answering immediately.
My annoyance came not from the request, but because he was putting me in the position of having to say no. I don’t like having to tell people no when they ask me for a favor. But this is an absolute for me. I never give a ride to a stranger. If I see someone stranded on the highway, I will call 911 for them. But I never stop. And even in my small town, that rule holds. It is nonnegotiable.
He stood, waiting for my answer. I finally said, “I can’t give you a ride.” He sighed, and began again to walk down the road. I watched him go. He was elderly, and carrying a cloth grocery bag. He shuffled when he moved, but I could tell it was from fatigue, not from drunkenness. I saw him try to hitchhike. No one stopped.
I stood there at the gas pump, finishing up. Something told me I needed to challenge this. What do they say in Zen? Nowhere standing? No fixed rules? I tried to think of how I could change my mind while still feeling safe.
Two years ago, my dog and I were attacked by two off-leash dogs on a walk. Since then, I have kept pepper spray in my car for our outings. I reached into the glovebox, took out the pepperspray, and put it into the cubbyhole on the driver’s side. Then I unlocked the passenger-side door and unrolled the window, drove out into the street, and pulled up alongside of the man.
“Where do you need to go?”
“Bless you,” he said.
His name was Michael. He had spent the entire day navigating the bus system in Sonoma County, and simply didn’t have it in him to walk the last mile and a half home to his senior apartment complex. He didn’t mention the $5. We both knew that had nothing to do with why I had stopped. I drove him all the way to his front door.
That one small act of kindness made it much easier for me to go to sleep that night.