Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What happened Sunday when I gave a strange woman a ride

No. 95: “If you see them on some desolate highway, they’re hitchhikers and could be dangerous. But if you see them standing at your local bus stop in the pouring rain, they’re just soggy neighbors. Go ahead—stop the car and give them a ride.”

As far as colorful living tips go, I consider this one a solid and workman-like suggestion. It’s easy to do and is guaranteed to add color to your life.

It’s right there on page 31 of “Use All The Crayons!” Neither funny nor boring, it’s just one of 501 that will add a welcome dash of color to your life without requiring you to don a cape or do something outlandish.

You’ll be doing a good deed. You’ll be making a new friend. You’re adding another chit to your karma kitty.

I include the caveat about being wary because today that’s essential. Although we’ve yet to descend into the zombie apocalypse, it’s best to be careful.

 And I can attest to the thrust of the tip. I’ve never stopped to help a stranger who wasn’t as colorful as an Atomic Tangerine.

Happened again Sunday morning.

Sunday morning is a time of worship or rest for most of you.

Not for me.

It’s always the most hectic part of my entire week. That’s because Val plays the organ for services at our Lutheran church at 8 and 10:30 a.m. And she does so with much joyful gusto. She’s wonderful.

But the logistics of her duties means it falls to me to wake, dress and feed the girls and cajole them into being ready for Sunday school at 9:15. Josie, 13, is self-sufficient and of immense cheerful help, but it’s still a weekly struggle for me and disruptive the at-home serenity I so seek.

So my church attendance has become pathetic.

I think God understands because He made me this lazy and must know I’m the kind of man who whines about things like pouring Sunday cereal for two precious girls when other parents endure many more challenging hardships.

And I try and balance the books by doing little good deeds whenever the opportunity arises.

That’s why my antenna was up after I’d dropped the kids off at church and was heading to my office to retrieve the newspaper and saw the woman trudging through snow.

I glanced at my car thermometer. It read 17 degrees. Outside it was blowing snow.

And there trudging down the highway in the opposite direction was this woman who looked about 50. She was a good mile between any homes and any logical Sunday morning destinations.

I thought, you know, if she’s still there on my way back, I’m going to give her a lift.

And, lo and behold, there she was.

I pulled up beside her in the drifting snow and rolled down the window. 

“Need a ride? I don’t know how far you’re going, but I’m heading as far as the grocery store a couple miles up. I hate to see anyone out in this weather.”

She got in without a word.

Up close she looked older than 50. I do not wish to disparage her appearance, but I’ll say this: I decided right then and there if she was going to out of gratitude offer me a parking lot quickie for my kindness I’d politely decline.

I told her my name and asked where she was going.

“Up to that new Mexican restaurant. I’m Sarah.”

She was very abrupt and appeared determined. It dawned on me I’d probably picked up a crazy woman. Not that I was upset. Crazy is a brilliant color all its own.

But it was 9:30 on a Sunday morning. The Mexican restaurant, El Padron, had opened four days previously. Val and I had lunch there and were very pleased.

We were happy there are now two Mexican restaurants in town bound to engage in a healthy competition -- and, yes, I am talking about the Taco Bell as the only other Mexican restaurant.

I asked her if she was scheduled to meet someone there.

“No. But I cook Mexican food and I’m going to be their new chef.”

I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but the restaurant’s demographics seemed to be working against her. The staff we saw during our lunch were exclusively young males of apparent Mexican descent.

I asked if she’d ever been a chef previously.

“No, but I just saw this show on the Food Network. They were making tacos.”

I was pretty sure the restaurant would be closed, but it wasn’t far out of my way. I took her the whole way.

Sure, enough, it was a ghost town. No cars outside. Lights off. Not a soul in there.

Sorry, I said, looks like you’re out of luck. Even though I had to get back to retrieve the kids, I asked if I could drop her off someplace else.

“No. I’ll wait. Thanks.”

I drove off admiring her tenacity and sensing the owners of the new Mexican restaurant were about to enjoy a colorful encounter of their very own.

But I think maybe I made a mistake. I should have taken her with me to church. She would have enjoyed hearing Val play and we have a wonderful pastor who might have had some spiritual advice for this frozen wanderer.

Still, the optimist in me hopes I’m wrong.

I hope the next time Val and I return to El Padron we’re surprised to see my new friend is the chef, a vibrant flash of culinary authority whipping her young Mexican charges into shape.

Maybe she’ll out of gratitude offer me a bowl of free guacamole for my taco.

And me being more excited about the prospect of a bowl of free guacamole than a parking lot quickie only makes the whole story that much more colorful.

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