After Sunday’s softball practice and post-practice beer session in Scotia, I began the drive home to Albany.
I was on Veeder Avenue, near the Schenectady Fire Department’s main station, when I saw an older woman walking slowly on the sidewalk. She was wearing shorts and a light-colored blouse, and carrying two yellow plastic shopping bags. They looked heavy.
She might have been heading toward the apartments down the hill from the firehouse — I remember thinking that as I passed her.
Then I thought ... why did I pass her? Why didn’t I just pull up next to this senior citizen, and offer her a ride to her home? I’m a relatively cleaned-up guy, and my Honda Civic is a relatively cleaned-up car — a pedestrian would not have been in danger with either one of us.
I took a left turn onto Broadway and rolled toward Interstate 890. The woman kept walking, and I kept thinking about a good deed that never happened.
I received a chance for redemption Wednesday morning. Part of my route to work from Albany includes a few turns on pavement surrounding the New York State Office Complex off Western Avenue. I had just entered the oval when I saw a red car parked on the side, emergency flashers on and front hood up. One woman was at the wheel, a man and woman were standing in light rain outside the car.
This time, I stopped.
I rolled down the window and asked what the trouble was. Mechanical problems were the least of Margaret’s woes. This 63-year-old blonde from Norfolk, Va., was in deep worry and light panic.
“Our car has broke down, and I have to be at the airport for a 10:50 flight home,” she said.
This small travelling party was from the Catskill area: Margaret had returned to her childhood home to visit a younger sister recovering from surgery. They didn’t have any phone books to call a cab. A state trooper had stopped, but said he could not rush Margaret up the Northway and over to Albany International. Rules and regulations took precedence.
I had some cab numbers with me — leftover insurance from May’s Tulip Festival festivities — and made a quick call. “Twenty minutes,” the dispatcher said.
It was close to 10 a.m., and I could tell poor Margaret was desperate. I decided to cut the taxi guys and possible delays out of the action. Although I have not picked up a hitchhiker since my college days of the 1970s, I offered Margaret a lift to her airplane.
She accepted. In about a minute, Margaret had bid farewell to her brother and sister-in-law. Her three-foot high trunk was in my back seat and she was in my front seat.
I began to wonder. As a former police reporter, I have written about all kinds of scams. Could this be some kind of con operation? Should I ask to see her airline tickets? Get some ID?
No, I thought — why would three people try to rope some guy into a sting during a steady rain.
But then again ... yes! Wouldn’t lousy weather be the best excuse to flag down a sympathetic passer-by?
I figured this was not one of those cases. And maybe Margaret was a little worried, too. She had just accepted a ride in an unfamiliar city from an unknown man. Clean-cut, but unknown. And her brother had not asked for any ID from me. I doubt they even wrote down my license plate number.
Margaret kept thanking me as the windshield wipers kept time. We approached Northway Exit 4 — Wolf Road — and the airport was minutes away.
“What goes around, comes around,” the grateful Margaret said. “You will be blessed for this, something good will happen to you.”
She said I was the only driver — besides the trooper — who had stopped in 20 minutes. She had started to pray for a solution to her dilemma, and while it sounds corny, I guess her prayer worked.
I pulled up in front of the airport’s front entrances and carried Margaret’s trunk from my car to the front sidewalk — I‘m a full-service Samaritan. She asked if she could give me some money for my trouble.
I refused. “That would kind of defeat the purpose of the good deed,” I said.
Margaret would make her flight. I wished her good luck and was back on the Northway minutes later, a bit late for work.
Too bad these good deeds can be such big decisions. I guess it comes down to trust. We’ve all read stories like this that do not have positive endings. That’s just the way society is.
My brother Tim was once approached by a guy outside a convenience store; he pointed to his car in the parking lot, said he needed money for gas to get home to his family. Couldn’t Tim please help?
As if on cue, some other guy walked out of the store, got into the needy man’s “car” and drove away.
“Looks like somebody just stole your car,” my brother said.
“Okay, you got me,” the scam artist said.
A free ride is something different. I wouldn’t want my sister or any female friends picking up strange people — under any circumstances. And would I have offered a ride to a seedy-looking guy who gave me the same desperate airport story? I don’t know.
But suppose our roles had been reversed on Wednesday? I would have been worried about missing my plane. I would have watched all the cars passing me in the rain, and wondered why nobody in the noble brotherhood of man was willing to stop.
This time, I stopped. It cost me a few seconds of indecision and a few minutes out of my morning, but it saved a woman travel hassles and maybe hours of lost time in an airport. Maybe booking another flight would have cost her an extra $100.
This time, it was the right thing to do.
I’m still not sure about God and the reward system. Merits and demerits, maybe, but I don’t know about Margaret’s “something good” coming my way. I do know Wednesday went by a little quicker. I knew I had bailed out someone who really needed a hand.
Maybe that’s good enough.