After a night of beer and friends and hamburgers, I found myself pulling into the Exxon gas station right before the interstate onramp off of Broadway. I only intended on spending five measly dollars on gas, which was plenty to get me home and get me to bed safe and sound.
As I swiped my debit card and went through all the motions of whattodo before pumping gas, a man came up to me and started talking. His words flowed like a torrent, hardly ceasing and behind eyes that both intimidated and intrigued. He was saying: "Hey man, can you help me? I'll give you a twenty if you can jump me."
I said: "Sure, man. You don't have to pay me; that's fine."
He said: "Are you sure?"
I said: "Yeah, no problem."
He said: "Thanks, I'm just up a few blocks. My wife and daughter are in the car," he pointed down Broadway away from the city and toward the lesser areas, "and my daughter was just at Vanderbilt; she has acid reflux and can't drink milk; we had to rush her to the emergency room tonight; and I just need a jump; I'll pay you."
I said: "Nah, nah. Don't worry about it, man. I have cables."
He said: "Oh, that's all right. I have cables; a policeman helped me out earlier."
I said: "O.K.," and the gas had already been pumped. I looked at him, and he started again: "Yeah, man. I work for the federal government. OSI. I investigate fraud and illegal activity, basically investigating people without them knowing about it. I have level five security clearance. I was talking to the cop earlier and he was like: 'Oh, so you can get up to forty dollars from any ATM card, then?' and I was like: 'Yeah, that's one of the perks.'" And his mouth was moving a thousand miles an hour, like a whirlwind, moving in tangents that were hard to keep up with.
I didn't pay any attention to the last comment as he began reiterating the fact that his wife and kid were up the street waiting on him and how he had spent a long time with the police car and the tow truck and how he didn't have enough cash to pay the tow truck (he was twelve dollars short) and needed a jump desperately so that he could get home to his house off Concord Road (the rich area of Nashville). I watched his eyes darting from left to right, and then looking straight into mine in a pleading manner.
As he walked around the back of my car he saw my Belmont parking pass/bumper sticker and said: "Belmont? My wife is an alumni of Belmont. I tell you what, that coach is a real student of the game," and he went on and on about how good of a basketball team they had; I not very interested but acting like I cared, and saying: "Yeah, it was really cool that they made it to the NCAA tournament the past two years," and him agreeing and moving his mouth up and down and across, not giving me time to think.
He said: "Isn't it weird how God would send another Belmont alumni to help me out?"
I said: "Yeah, he works in mysterious ways," and smiled at my own cliché.
He just nodded and smiled.
I said: "Well, do you need a ride up to your car, I guess?" since he had pointed up the road indefinitely.
He said: "Yeah, just up to twentyfirst and Elliston."
I said: "Alright, then, man. I can do that." I knew exactly where that was.
He hopped in the car after me and made himself comfortable, complimenting my car and asking what gas mileage it got, etc. I appeased his thirst for knowledge as we drove, and soon he mentioned: "Do you have a gas can?"
I said: "No, I don't."
He said: "Well, then you won't be able to help me, then. My car's out of gas too."
I said: "I'm sure we can just get one at a gas station."
He said: "Nah, me and the police officer have been looking around for an hour and fortyfive minutes for one."
I said nothing.
He said: "Now, there's three ways we can do this. Either you drive me back to my house off of Concord, and I can get my wallet, or you can go get some money at an ATM to pay the tow truck driver, and I'll pay you back fifty bucks extra tomorrow; I'll give you my number, or..." I didn't quite hear/understand the third option, my brain was buzzing so.
I had been drinking a little before this, so my perceptions were not acting properly. I said: "Well, where's this tow truck driver? I'm sure he takes credit cards..."
He said: "No, no. He doesn't. Only cash."
I furrowed my brow in disbelief. I had dealt with tow trucks before. They usually had a portable credit card machine. I said: "Well, where is he?"
He said: "Oh, he's back there. On seventeenth."
I said: "So I should turn around then?"
He said: "Yeah," and I did. I pulled into some random, dark entrance that eventually made a circle back to Broadway. He said: "Here, why don't you give me your phone, and I'll put my number in it. That way, you can call me tomorrow, and I'll get you your money."
I reached for my pocket, but then hesitated, and said: "Well, I don't like doing too much while I'm driving; I'll get it later."
He said: "Oh, alright," and we found our way back down to seventeenth, all the while he reiterated how he had level five security clearance and how he could get me a job at the federal building; it would be an entry level position, of course, only making thirtyfive thousand a year or so, which I was perfectly O.K. with. My mouth curled at the thought that maybe this was all happening for a reason. He also reiterated how he could get up to forty dollars out of any ATM card with his level five security clearance. I said something like: "That must be a cool job," and he said: "Yeah, it's very...interesting."
He said: "It's just a few blocks down here, Blank-Blank Company Towing." In a few blocks, he pointed me directly at the building, which had a sign that matched the company name he said, not before making clear that the tow trucker might not be back yet.
He wasn't. There was an SUV parked out front and the man said: "That's his SUV. He won't be back for about thirty minutes; he just got a call on the other side of town."
I made a quick U-ee and stopped at the stop sign. I said: "What's your wife's number? I'd like to call her."
He said: "Sure, it's _ _ _ - _ _ _," and I stopped him and said: "Didn't you say that her phone was dead earlier?" He had. For sure. But he corrected: "No, I said that her phone was dying." He did not.
I put down the phone on my lap, keeping my hand over it and drove back toward Broadway where there were people and lights. I said: "Man, I'm getting a bad feeling about this."
He said: "What do you mean?"
I said: "No offense to you, but this is a little bit weird. I'm sorta tipsy right now, and I want to help you; I do; but I'm just sorta sketched out right now. Nothing against you or anything."
He said: "What's weirding you out?"
I suppose this is the point where I mention that he was a black man, skinny, and the more I realized it, probably on hard drugs.
I wanted to say: "Well, you're a black man, in the middle of the night, with some crazy story that has holes in it; I think you're conning me, that you probably want to rob me, and may possibly kill me in the process," but I didn't. Instead I said: "It's nothing against you at all. I just don't feel right, that's all," and pulled into the Shell on Broadway. I parked caddycorner to a police car at the gas pump and pointed at it and said: "There's a policeman. I'm sure he'll be able to help you."
He said: "Nah, I've already dealt with the police tonight. Can I ask you one last favor?"
I said: "Sure."
He said: "Can I bum a cigarette off you?"
I said: "Nah, man. I don't have any."
He said: "Alright then. I get why you're sketched out. Thanks anyway," and he got out of the car.
Just then, a policeman pulled up with his lights on as he pulled over a car off of Broadway. As I pulled out, I had half a mind to say something to him since the man had gone right over to the nearest car and was crouched in the window, talking.
But I didn't. I drove home.