Monday, November 15, 2010

Another adventure with a stranger

As I was leaving birthday-sneakies yesterday, pulling out of my parking space near the Barnes & Noble in Town Center, I saw in the rear-view mirror an old woman shuffling her way towards the car, gesturing at me with one hand, holding onto the walker with the other.  I slowed, to make sure she had clearance to get around me, but then realized that she was on her way directly to my open window.

I had just stowed a couple of bags of birthday goodies for the kid in the back of the car and thrown my sweater back there, too.  In typical fashion, it was hot yesterday.

I spend the entirety of November 14 and 15 every year reliving the birth of my son.  It's a very special couple of days for me, a combination of awe at the present and the past alike, a day of bringing them together into focus.  Anyway, I was -- yesterday afternoon -- feeling happy, remembering how hot it was the day Laurent was born, sunlight streaming into the room at Mt. Zion hospital in San Francisco.

Old lady approaches and I realize that she's waving me down.  I ask her, through the window, if she needs something, if there's something I can for her.  She asks me for a ride home.  It's only, she says, two blocks away.

In an instant, all kinds of things tumble through my mind.  I take in the fact that she's wearing sweatpants, a turtle neck, a cardigan with all its buttons buttoned, long-fingered red gloves.  She clutches the walker, a plastic bag containing a clear box of noodles and broth dangling also from one hand.  Her teeth are very yellow.  She is frail.  I can smell faint alcohol on her breath.  She has no purse, no place on her person where a weapon could be hidden, ax or shiv.  I'm not supposed to pick up hitch-hikers, and she's a hitch-hiker of a sort, a super-frail one, a bit of a mess.  Really, the only risk in saying Yes, besides having a stranger in my car, is that she might pee.  That would truly suck.

So I say Yes, of course, hop out, help her with her seatbelt while she delightedly asks me about my tattoos.  I place the walker in the back of the car, careful not to squash any of the presents I've bought for LT.  I get in.  We push off.

I keep up a steady chatter of questions and little stories as we travel on towards her house.  It's farther than two blocks, more like a mile.  As it turns out, it's not unusual for her to get a ride to the shopping center from someone she knows.  She has a little lunch at Chang's (hence the wine smell, the little bag of left-over noodles) and then finds a ride home.  Clearly, this ploy works on others.  It worked on me.

She asks about my tattoos, do I have others, do I want more -- she has a friend who has tattoos covering his entire body.  Her eyes sparkle when she talks.  Her speech is slow but animated.  Could be the wine.  I am relaxed.

She asks if I was at the bookstore.  And I say yes, I was out shopping for presents for my son's birthday.  She asks how old and when I tell her, she replies that I couldn't be more than 20.  We have a laugh about this.  Her son lives in San Rafael with his family.  She sees him often.

And then we make the left-hand turn onto her street, and I pull to the curb at #11 and help her out.  I give her back her walker and she gets ready to make the short walk to her front door.

As we're parting, I ask her her name.  Pat, she says.  I tell her mine.  Delighted to meet you, we both say.  Enjoy the rest of this beautiful day.

And then she shuffles off.  I get back in my car and head home.

I suppose it's possible that this happens all the time, all over the place, that people do these things for each other all the time, for total strangers.  There's something that feels special about the opportunity, and yet, I know, because I learned it yesterday, that it's actually not unusual, since Pat is able to find a ride home several times a week.

Still, it's unusual for me, and I feel lucky that it was my car Pat approached, that I said Yes and went a little out of my way to help someone I may never see again in my entire life.  I won't soon forget the sight of her funny little face, eyes lit up, right next to me in the car, a stranger reminding me, again, of how much we're all the same, riding along companionably together.

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