Thursday, June 29, 2006

Won't You Please, Please Help Me?

I was driving through the downtown of a nearby city with my windows down (my first mistake? It wasn't the best neighborhood) when an older woman came over to my car. She first told me that she needed a ride because her pickup truck had broken down (there was a man seated at the wheel). I asked her where she needed to go. To a friend's house, she said, so she could get to another town out west.

For a moment, I considered giving her a lift . . . until her story started changing. Now, the truck was out of gas. I offered to bring her enough gas so she could make it to a station (I have a small jerry can in my car). Now she needed $20.

I left with her pleading me for the money. I kept repeating, "No, ma'am." For a minute I felt like she was going to hold onto my car door as I drove off.

I'm sure she wasn't on the level, although I have this nagging feeling of guilt that maybe, just maybe, she was telling the truth. My wife said I could also have offered to call her "friend." But it just didn't feel right.

It's not that I'm unwilling to help people. There are panhandlers around where I work, and more than once I've offered to take them to Wendy's for a meal. No, they just want the money. And a couple times when I've done that before, I get swarmed on by others who see what's going on. I want to be helpful, but not taken advantage of.

Can anyone else identify?

P.S. We give plenty of money to charitable causes. (Not asking for pats on the back; just sayin'.)


Puffy said...

I think you did the right thing. It just didn't seem like she was on the level. You used your best judgment. Better to be safe than sorry.

Surveysez said...

Always listen to those little voices when they tell you something is not right. It's ignoring them that brings on problems.

(Unless they tell you to stay home and clean the guns - then you might not want to call into work with that reason)

SeasonedRefinement said...

Greetings, Cygnus...It's not always as easy as it might seem to actually be a good Samaritan, lol. If the poor unfortunate is on the ground and not talking or moving, well, that call is easy. But, more often than not, they are quite able-bodied, talking a mile a minute, and not very direct in answering a question. I hate to sound cynical, but the cons of the world know that parable too, and they have become quite adept at reaping its benefits.

In various outreach programs, we've worked with plenty of good people who are just...poor. These are good people, some of them mentally or emotionally challenged, and that's one thing. And people do have old trucks and cars that eventually offer up their last mile and die on the side of the road -- and that's another thing. But these tales of woe are usually pretty straightforward. One thing is for sure: in this day and age, you don't know who to trust when it comes to strangers on the highway. If I see a woman (or anyone, for that matter) stranded on the side of the road, I offer to call the police. If they are up to no good, when I'm out of sight, so are they. If they really are in trouble, when the police arrive, they can offer them more help than I could have.

I don't need to tell you that there is a whole segment of society, a subculture, who have made a profession out of playing the system against itself. Sometimes, the good guys -- the volunteers who want to help carry the burden of their fellow man -- get caught in the crossfire.

I will never forget something I once saw at a "feed the homeless" outreach program in the Port Authority area of NYC. One homeless man entered a storefront where sandwiches and soft drinks were being handed out. He took a sandwich and walked out the front door. When he got outside, he said, "What do we have here?", and he opened the plastic wrap, and got to the two slices of bread. Opening them and looking inside, he said, "Peanut butter and #*@#*%$$ jelly? How about some meat?" and he threw the sandwich on the ground and walked away.

Life is full of the scenarios you described. Most people drive right by and never bother stopping. You did. Your heart's in the right place. But, strangers are strangers, and it's still good advice: be as wise as a serpent, and as gentle as a dove.

Cygnus said...

Good words, SR.

I have a friend who is in a halfway house, trying to kick a coke habit. He says she almost certainly was trying to score some money for her fix, whatever it may have been.