November 17, 2016


I was driving home from working in a nearby office yesterday when I stopped at the Clifton Springs Service Area on the New York State Thruway. I needed the bathroom break, I wanted to stretch my legs and I was in the mood for an unsweetened iced tea from Starbucks. There was a chance that I could satisfy the sweet tooth I was feeling as well.

As I made my way through the parking lot, looking for a place to park, I noticed a man standing a space looking quite despondent. Nearby was a run-down car of foreign manufacture. The trunk was up, even though it was raining. The man had a wandering gait. I parked nearby and made my way into the building. I noticed the man had started approaching another motorist going to his car but thought better of it and went back to the spot near the broken-down car.  My attention to this was casual and by the time I was in the building I had forgotten all about it.

Armed with an unsweetened iced tea and an oat bar from Starbucks, I was walking back across the parking lot when the same man approached me. It was raining harder.

“Hey, would you be willing to trade a case of Gatorade for some gas money?”, he asked.

I shook my head, murmured an apology to the negative (I don’t need that much Gatorade when I have unsweetened iced tea) and walked to the Jeep.  As I got in the Jeep, I looked back and saw that he had sat down in the empty spot next to his car. The trunk was still open. The rain prevented me from determining if he was crying or not. In the background I could see the woman in the passenger seat with her head on her hands in a despondent pose.

I pulled out my wallet and took out some money. I went back out in the rain and walked over to the man sitting in the parking space and gave him the cash. It would be enough for him to put a decent amount of gas in his car. 

“Here, take this. Keep the Gatorade”, I stammered.  He thanked me several times as I walked back to the Jeep.

I did this without hesitation once I made up my mind to give the man money, but there was a hesitation as the cynic in me worried about being scammed. I wondered how someone could get to that point in their life that he professed to be, stuck at the Clifton Springs Service Area with no way to put gas in the car. Fleetingly I wondered how someone could go through life asking for handouts. 

And then I put all that cynicism aside and decided that whether this was the right situation or not, I needed to be better about trying to make the world a better place. And that’s when all hesitation disappeared and I approached the man to tell him to keep his case of Gatorade.

I don’t know if I was scammed. Honestly, I don’t care. Whatever the reason he had for asking a stranger for money, I hope that he is in a better place today. 

Sometimes we just need to pay it forward with no questions asked.