When all you have to give a stranger is $20 and a bottle of water
FROM THE ROAD: The man sat on the curb in front of the convenience store/gas station. It was right off the ramp from the interstate in Alabama. We had just had lunch at a Subway restaurant down the street and stopped at this place before getting back to Interstate 59 North. My wife and son using the gas stop to go into the convenience store for road snacks and drinks. I began to wonder what should I give a stranger who obviously needs some help?
A man and his dog
The man had a fountain cup in one hand and in the other arm he held a small, dirty white dog. Next to him was a red duffle bag. He did not have a hat, despite the mid-afternoon sun. He was of average height and rather slim. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties.
The temperature was near 100 degrees.
As I finished gassing up and waited for my wife and son to come back to the car I observed that he was trying to get the dog to drink some water out of the cup.
As my wife came into the car she remarked,
“Honey, did you see the man with the dog? I wonder what he is doing here.”
“Right, I noticed he was trying to get his dog to drink, he appears to be on foot”.
As we talked the man got up, picked up the dog on his left arm and hoisted the duffle bag on his right shoulder. It didn’t have a strap, so he was limited on how to carry it. He walked out of the gas station and turned in the direction of the ramp to I-59 North.
As soon as my son came back to the car and got himself comfortable and strapped down, we headed back for the highway. My wife asked my son,
“Did you see the man with the dog?”
“Yeah mom, I think it is a puppy, no more than a few months old”.
We had all noticed the man. As others must have. But from what we could see, he was on his own.
We will stop but what can you do? What can you give a stranger?
As we got on the on-ramp to I-59 North, the man was almost at the end of it. In just a minute or two he had advanced significantly. I announced, “We are going to give this guy something” to make sure my family knew in advance I was going to stop.
I searched my shirt pocket for money and got out a $20 bill. My wife looked around to see if she could find something else to give him.
All she had handy was a bottle of water that she had just purchased.
I stopped the car a dozen or so yards ahead of the man. As he overcame us, my wife called out to him,
“Sir, would you like some water and money?”
He appeared to come out of coma, he focused on us and after a few seconds responded,
“Yes ma’am, thank you very much. I am a Marine and I am on my way to Jacksonville, Florida.”
My wife handed him the water and money and said,
“So sorry, we don’t have any room in the car, and in fact we are going North, out of your way.”
“Don’t worry ma’am, I can see that you have a full car.”
In fact, we had our 2015 Scion xB full to the brim.
The back had our luggage for our 14-day trip and in the back seat our 6’ 3” son sat contorted trying to find a little extra room. He had two bags full of his gear, as well as some food, sharing the space with him.
We had brought some non-perishable food thinking that we would save money.
After the first day of trying to eat lunch in the car, we realized that we needed to sit down in a restaurant to get some change of scenery, stop moving for a moment and rest from eight hours on the road every day.
After we started down the highway thinking about the man heading for Jacksonville, my wife commented,
“We should have given him some of the food we have in the back seat.”
For the rest of the day we speculated about the reason the guy was walking with a dog on an Interstate. To this day when one of us brings up the subject we feel sad all over again and wonder why we didn’t do more for the stranger. But what can you give a stranger?
Of course, one of the rationales I have thought about since then, is that the whole thing was a hoax to get us to give him money. The scenario had all the emotional triggers, “lost”, young Marine possibly suffering from PTSD, in extreme heat and hardship with a puppy dog.
In this scenario he probably knew that most people would not have offered a ride, but instead would have given him money and/or food. But this is only my cynical self.
But does that really matter?
Ultimately, though it was just cash and water, we feel that we did something for another human being. However we feel that maybe we could have done more.
Lead Image by Alejandro Mendoza for Pexels.com CCO