Getting robbed, of kindness

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On the way to have a birthday breakfast with my mother Saturday morning, I got rolled. Well, not rolled, but robbed. I guess. Mostly, I feel stupid and duped and a little bit angry.

It went something like this…

Because of a busy schedule later in the day – Little League field clean-up, team photos and practice – I called my mother Friday and told her some combination of her grandsons and I would be up in the morning with breakfast. Nolan, the youngest, jumped in the car along with Katie the puppy. Jack and Ryan, the teenagers, had other things to do – long-planned paintball outing for the former, haircut for the latter. After a stop at Panera Bread for scones and muffins, we headed toward Pennsylvania. It’s a short trip, 25 minutes or so, and there are any number of cross-country routes to take. We left Newark on Paper Mill Road, bypassed the shortcut when too many other cars went that way. At the intersection of Paper Mill and Limestone Road, we eased up next to a pick-up truck and waited for the light – when the fun promptly began.

A woman stepped out of the pick-up, which was clearly stalled or something. She came up to the passenger window, and asked if I had a gas can. I had a puppy, a kid, two boxes of muffins, a cup of tea, some CDs, an iPhone, an extra pair of shoes . . . but no, I did not have a gas can. She smiled, nodded, went to the car behind her. No gas can there either. She headed back for her truck and I called to her, “Why don’t I drive you to that gas station across the street? I’m sure they’ll have a gas can.” The gas station was not exactly across the street, more like up a little bit and across four (maybe six) lanes of traffic. I would save her a few minutes of walking, cost myself a few minutes of driving, nothing more. She told her passengers she’d be right back, grabbed her wallet, keys, maybe a phone and got in my car.

I know, I know, I know. Never pick up strangers.

We drove to the gas station, she started to get out, dropped her stuff, picked it all up again, thanked me and went into the store. “I hope they have a gas can,” she said as she went in. I waited, just to be sure. Soon, she was back out of the store with the clerk, who took a gas can off an outdoor shelf and handed it over.

“I can just walk back from here,” my passenger said. “Thank you very much.”

I said “You’re welcome” and headed back to the road, getting on with my day. I didn’t do it to set an example for Nolan or for anything else really, but the good deed felt like a nice thing to do. Twenty minutes later, we pulled into my parents’ driveway and my phone rang.

“Dad, is my wallet in your car?” Jack asked. “It was over by the passenger seat, between the seat the and the door.”

Ooh.

I walked around the car, opened the passenger door and there was Jack’s wallet and some paper from school. I picked it up and instinctively opened it.

“How much money was in your wallet, Jack?” I asked.

“Forty-five dollars,” he replied.

There was only $25. I tried to explain what happened, I’m sure it sounded like a joke to Jack. No joke, we were robbed – of $20 – while doing a favor. I didn’t know the wallet was there, surely wouldn’t have invited someone into the car without moving the wallet first had I known. She was pretty smooth, dropping her gear and filching a $20 bill without me noticing. I tried to look at the bright side. She didn’t take the whole wallet (with driver’s license and bank card), she didn’t take the whole $45, she didn’t demand the muffins, she didn’t have a gun.

And who leaves a wallet between the door and the passenger seat?

It made me laugh, I guess. It’s only money, and she probably really needed it – and not just for gas. I gave Jack $20 to make up for the loss.

But man, really? She took my money? I don’t go around picking up every person I see, I’m not a sucker but if somebody needs help you’re supposed to help. I am the guy who – somewhere on I-68 between Maryland and Kentucky (in Clendenin, W. Va. to be precise) – stopped to help two guys with a broken-down camper at 3 o’clock in the morning. One, holding a gas can, was in a wheelchair. I took him, the chair and the gas can to get some gas and returned them to the camper. The last thing he said was “God will bless you for helping us, sir. We’d been there for three hours and nobody stopped.”

I did. But will I the next time?