I just wanted to leave work. Today was my Friday. I’m taking a vacation day tomorrow to be with my mom for an early Thanksgiving celebration at the senior complex where her parents/my grandparents live. And my Friday wasn’t ending soon enough.
I left work later than usual — about an hour past my usual time. When I got in my car this morning, I knew I’d need to stop for gas before heading home tonight. As is the case with a day, however, tiny details are forgotten and the to-do list is passed over in favor of office tasks, meetings, emails, reports.
I trekked to the parking deck, collapsed into the driver’s seat and exhaled, glad that my workweek was finally over. Upon starting my car, however, it flashed a reminder at me: my range was only 8 miles. It was 15 to get home. Yep, fuel is definitely a must.
I pulled into the nearest station — tiny and chaotic with too many pumps for the corner it occupies, but you do what you gotta do. I maneuvered into an open space and got out, ignoring my surroundings. Until I couldn’t ignore them anymore.
It was rush hour and the streets were damp; the shushing of tires on wet asphalt was peppered with the occasional honk and evening commute speeds of 50 mph across six lanes of traffic. A TV on top of the pump was blaring its ads; my ears were starting to buzz. It was anything but quiet. As I fueled up, I was instantly aware that a group of guys was approaching me, yelling or hollering about something. I didn’t know what the fuss was about, and I didn’t care. I wasn’t in the mood to assess the situation, but something made me look up once they were about five feet from me.
It wasn’t a bunch of guys. It was two teenage boys and two elementary school boys pushing their mother’s old minivan toward a pump. They were having a good time doing it, as I’m sure it was an adventure for them. For mom, however, the situation isn’t ideal. She’s out of gas. Her children are pushing the van during rush hour. What’s more, they’re not prepared.
I continued to pump my gas. The minivan was on the other side of the pump.
“Excuse me, ma’am, but do you have any change?” one of the teenagers asked. “We need to get some gas. We’re out.”
“How much do you need?” I asked. Meanwhile, one thought is in my head.
Change? You expect to purchase a decent amount of gas with change?
“I dunno, maybe one or two dollars,” he said.
I said yes. Yes, I certainly did have some change — I spent about five minutes yesterday afternoon appalled at myself for having so much crammed into the coin section that it was starting to overflow out the sides. The seams were sure to bust at any point in the next few weeks. Yep, I most definitely, absolutely had change.
But he wouldn’t be getting it.
I also knew I had a $10 bill in my wallet which had been sitting there for almost two weeks. I usually don’t carry cash, but the note was there. Waiting. Unused. Ready. For an emergency? Perhaps, although my emergencies usually consist of me having a hankering for a taco on the way home. But there it was.
I popped into my car, grabbed it and gave it to him.
“I have a one dollar bill, and a ten. I’m confident you won’t get far on the one,” I said, handing him the ten.
“Wow, thanks! Do you want change? I can get you change right now,” he said.
“Nope,” I answered. “No change. All yours.”
He was over the moon, and he handed it to his brother who wanted to give it to the cashier. The kid hollered out at his brother, “Tell him $10 on pump 10. You can’t mess that up, right?”
Some might say it was a scam. They might be true, but it certainly didn’t look like one. Others might say that they might’ve only put $5 worth of gas into their tank, and kept the other $5. To that, I’d say that if they need to keep $5 that badly, then I’m happy to let them do that. Giving up $10 or any amount is trusting the other party to do what’s right with it — you know, that whole karma thing. But then I thought of this, although I was still quite happy to have been able to hand over a $10 to a kid who just had a big hand in pushing him mom’s minivan to safety: even if they only used a portion of it, there’s a pretty important day just around the corner. It’s called Thanksgiving. And regardless of how they used it, if not for gasoline entirely, I’m going to bet someone in that group was thankful for it.
For gratitude and for being able to help, for a longer than usual workday delayed for a reason and for a $10 in my wallet that’s never, ever there, I am grateful.