I was walking out of the hotel struggling under the weight of two heavy bags and an overloaded purse. Wondering why there is never a bellman when you need one, I plunged into the frigid air bracing myself against the blast of wind that immediately engulfed me. A man was walking towards me and I briefly thought, "Maybe he will offer to help me!!" but no, he smiled and said, "Cold isn't it?".
I responded instead of just smiling back and nodding, "Freeze your lungs".
He stopped and turned around towards me and began to speak, "The strangest thing happened.." he began. To not be rude, I stopped and gave him my attention, thinking this couldn't take long and I mercifully put down the baggage...."I was hit by a Transylvania college student while traveling with my family. He had no insurance and my car is wrecked. We spent the night in the emergency room at the hospital...." Yes, there is a hospital directly across the intersection from the hotel...."because my insurance does not have rental. I am walking around trying to find some help."
I offered some "help", "Go into the hotel and find the number for Southland Christian Church, they are the largest church in the area and I think they might be able to help some way".
"You go to that church?"
"I use to, when I lived here."
"Where do you live now?"
He began to walk towards the doors, "I only need eight more dollars to get a room at the Quality Inn."
I picked up my bags and began to walk away, but something in my heart gave a tug and I reached into my purse and pulled out a five dollar bill and offered it to him. "It's not $8 but it's all I have." (why did I lie?)
He took it and said, "It's like a million dollars to me."
We parted and he went into the hotel and I made the final 30 yards to the car mentally kicking myself in the butt for once again handing money over to a panhandler.
But was he?
It was most certainly one of the better stories I've heard. And truth be told, I've given money to a lot less creative solicitations. Still, it was awfully cold outside!
I remember the first time I was hit up for "change". I was in the drive thru off Interstate 75. I was so startled that I remember letting out a scream when a man leaned into my window and requested money to eat. I rolled my window up and drove away. I felt bad immediately and the horribleness of it stayed with me all day.
When I see them standing close to the highways with their signs, "Unemployed Vet' or "Lost Job" and just the other day, "Traveling through and hungry" I think how unbelievably sad it is. How they stand there with that vacant look, not making any eye contact. In rags.
And I wonder if they are professional panhandlers.
And when I meet someone as I did today, someone who may be in real need, I do not like the fact that I am cynical and jaded.
A million dollars. It makes me smile.