On a Parking Lot Encounter

On my lunch break, I walked to Borders.

As most people know, Borders is in dire financial straits, and while the Borders near the office is one of the stores that survived the closing axe a few months ago, the company is still on the brink of oblivion and stores may shutter within a week or two.

I didn’t find what I wanted, but I did find a book that I was curious to read, so the trip did not seem like the waste of a humid July day.

As I started back to the office, I heard someone behind me. “Sir? Hey, sir?”

I stopped, turned, and looked. I saw a man hurrying after me. He was wearing a white polo shirt and a red baseball cap.

“Do you have a minute?”

“I have to head back to the office.” I didn’t point, but I did nod my head in the direction of the blue glass building.

“I’ll walk with you.”

I shrugged.

The man began to tell me his story.

He was retired from the Air Force, and he was trying to get back to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. He was traveling on the Beltway (695) when his car broke down. He works as a car dealer, but his dealership couldn’t send anyone to Baltimore today to pick him up. He tried to hire a cab, but that would be at a minimum two hundred dollars. He tried the police, to see if they could take him back to Dover, but no dice. He tried two local churches, but also no dice. Meanwhile, his wife and two-year-old daughter were at the Greyhound station, but he didn’t want them to take the bus, because there would be a three-hour layover in Wilmington. He had a hundred and ten dollars and he was willing to hire anyone to drive him and his family back to Dover.

I listened to his story. I told him that I was entirely sympathetic to his plight but I couldn’t help him and I wished him well.

He stopped, cursed at me, and turned around and walked back toward Borders.

While it’s possible that his story was true, I had doubts.

First, why was the man at this particular shopping center? It wasn’t near 695. Perhaps the broken down car was towed, except that this shopping center wasn’t even near a mechanic.

Second, assuming that the car was towed to somewhere near this location, it wasn’t anywhere near the Greyhound station, which is south and past downtown, off the Light Rail line. How did his wife and child get there?

Third, what was so wrong about Greyhound? He said that it was thirty-eight dollars a ticket, he had a hundred and ten, his trip would have been financially feasible, if a little long, given the three-hour layover.

Fourth, assuming that he worked for a car dealership and they could send someone out to pick him up the next day, why not simply use the $110, rent a hotel room for the night, and leave Baltimore the next day? There are at least three hotels within three blocks of that Borders, and they’re even nice.

Fifth, he over-elaborated his story. There was pointless detail, like a bit about the Hispanic road workers on the Beltway, which related to absolutely nothing. It’s possible, I suppose, that he was explaining all the things he had tried, only to be thwarted at every turn, to engender sympathy, but instead he gave a relentless barrage of woe that reached a level of absurdist unreality. (The bit with attempting nearby churches was suspect. I’m not aware of any churches in the neighborhood around the office and Borders. I can’t see any steeples from the sixth floor, and this is the highest point around.)

In short, while I was completely sympathetic, I couldn’t believe his story. And even if I did believe his story, there was nothing I could do — my car was back at the subway station, an hour or more away by train and subway.

I got back to the office.

I wonder if the man is still lurking in the Borders parking lot.

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