September 12, 2016
While on the way back home from visiting my new grandbaby in Dayton on Saturday, I stopped at a gas station along I-70. I noticed a coin-operated air machine along the curb. It brought back memories of Don and Gayle, two people Carol and I met three years ago:
As Carol and I were getting in our car yesterday morning to head to work, I noticed the right rear tire was a little low. Nothing urgent, but we had some time so I decided to stop at the gas station to check tire pressure and air up as needed. For whatever reason I took a different route than normal, and pulled into a gas station on the way.
When nearing the “Inflation Station” (a coin operated air machine), we noticed a rather disheveled man with a walker sitting right in front of the machine. An equally disheveled older woman in a hat limped toward him.
I’ll be very honest – eight or ten years ago, I would have driven right past the machine and made the decision to fill up my tires another time, and avoid the hassle of dealing with those people. But a renewed prayer life, a softer heart, and two years of working with the homeless population made it possible for me to pull up and fill my tire as planned.
Carol headed toward the gas station convenience store to get our morning Diet Cokes. We gave each other a quick look, and without words were able to communicate that she should get them something to eat while she was in there.
Meanwhile, I fed some coins into the air machine, and began a conversation with the man sitting on the ground. We introduced ourselves. His name was Don. He opened up, sharing many of the troubles of his life – multiple surgeries on a bum knee (complete with showing me the scars), an ongoing battle with alcohol, children who didn’t want him around, no job, and more. His companion, Gayle, arrived and sat next to him. He gestured toward her and she filled me in on her troubles. Divorced nine years ago, her ex-husband became ill. She moved back in with him and cared for him for four years until he passed away.
Don and Gayle were just sitting there, waiting for the bus that would be coming in an hour or so. They wanted to go downtown. Each needed to see doctors at the clinic and then Gayle needed to check with social services about something that had gone wrong with her government aid. Don had a bus pass; Gayle hoped she had enough money to cover her bus fare. I took some money from my wallet and handed it to her.
Carol arrived a few minutes later with a bag of food for them, “We thought you might need something to eat,” she told them. They were very appreciative.
They now turned their attention to Carol, repeating most of the stories they had already shared with me. Carol listened attentively. We said we needed to move on, and wished them well. Before I could stop her, Carol handed Don some money, “Why don’t you take this,” she said.
We got in the car, both completely unsure if we had done the right thing. Had their stories just been stories? Had we been played? Both of us gave them money, for goodness sakes. How big of suckers were we?
Then some other questions kicked in: My tire wasn’t that low, why had I decided I needed to fill it right away? That wasn’t the way we normally went to work, why had I decided to head in that direction? Why hadn’t I just driven on when I saw the man blocking the air machine? How was it that a simple look between Carol and I translated into a meal for two people we had never even met?
All of these doubts and questions were flooding our minds as I backed away from the air machine and began to pull away. I put on the brakes as I realized I did not have my seatbelt on. As I buckled up, I looked in the rearview mirror at our two new friends. I tapped Carol and told her to look back. Both of us had tears in our eyes.
There were Don and Gayle, sitting on the curb in front of the air machine, their breakfast sandwiches and drinks sitting on top of the plastic bag, hands folded and bent over in prayer.
We drove on in silence, all of our doubts gone and all of our questions answered.