Creatures of Habit
He didn't want repeat customers.
The Fall day was beautiful in every sense of the word. New colors all around, fifty degrees, a shining sun, and a gentle breeze made the day perfect. When Nick came out of the clothing store, he had nowhere in particular to go. He was a bachelor for the weekend while his wife was on a retreat, so he stopped at the store for a few things.
“Sir, excuse me, you have a sec?” a man said as he approached Nick.
“Uh yeah, sure. What’s up?” Nick asked, his eyes darting back and forth already keen to a possible scam.
“Sir, I don’t know where to start or how to go about this because I’ve never done this before, but my name’s Chad and long story short is I need some money for gas. My wife and two kids are sitting over there in the car and I misjudged the mileage by quite a bit.” Chad paused to allow Nick to glance over at the beat up junk of a car Chad was driving.
“I mean, I’m running on fumes as it is. If I can make it out of town, I’d be surprised,” Chad paused again and sighed.
“I’ll back it up a bit. See, we were headed down to Martinsville for my wife’s mom’s memorial service later this afternoon and had to pick up the wife’s sister in Cambridge first. I ran my card at the station but it was declined for some reason. I think it had to do with my work’s new payroll system. Working out the kinks and all that. I’m a database admin. This has never happened to me before. I’m in a tough spot, Buddy. Based on the price of gas these days, I estimate we’ll need between 18 and 22 dollars to make it to the memorial. Can you help a guy out with anything, five, ten, something? Anything?”
When Nick lived in the inner city during college, he encountered this weekly. Different story, similar need. He thought he had learned how to handle situations like this then, but he was wrong. A guy with his family in tow was pulling at the heartstrings of a complete stranger. No, he could never get used to it.
His options were simple. He could hand over some cash, offer to fill his tank, or just say “No,” which would’ve been his way of saying, “I don’t believe your story” and walk away.
Even before he was done thinking through his options, he had his wallet unfolded and pulled out a $10 bill to give to Chad. Chad apologized for being an inconvenience and thanked him profusely for the help.
Three weeks to the day, Nick was in the same strip mall store, this time with his wife. Chad the Beggar was outside the door making the same appeal to exiting customers.
Nick knew what he had to do. Before getting out of the car, he told his wife to stay in the car and wave when he pointed her way. Puzzled by his instructions but trusting, she remained in the vehicle. After two customers passed by the beggar without making eye contact, Nick approached Chad.
“Say, Buddy, I, I hate to do this, but I’m going to my wife’s mother’s memorial in Martinsville and I ran out of gas. She’s over there sitting in that car.” He waved to her and she waved back.
“I guess I misjudged the mileage and I don’t know, I ran my card over at the gas station there but it was declined for some reason. Payroll system or some such. I work as a DBA. Can ya help a guy out? Huh? Can ya?”
Chad the Con Artist stared at Nick and then looked over at the man’s wife. Backing away, Chad held up his hands in surrender. He would drive away with his small family - if that’s who they were - and find a new place to sell his story. Along the way, though, he might just be considering a new way to make a living.