Tall boys and a tricky question

On Hallowe’en night I was buying gas near Aiken, South Carolina, and was deeply engrossed in washing my windshield when my peripheral vision caught a white mini-van coasting up to the adjoining pump. My attention was focused on a couple of stubborn bug streaks and I don’t generally spy on fellow customers, so I gave it little notice. 

“Excuse me, sir,” came a voice from behind. My hearing’s not great, so he had to repeat it a couple of times to get my attention. A man was standing beside the van. He was small in stature, wearing worn jeans, a dark T-shirt, a blue-checked flannel shirt, and a nondescript ball cap with no logo. All were wrinkled and as scruffy in appearance as his beard.

But he was very polite. “Excuse me, sir. Could you spare a dollar or two? I’m trying to get home. I only have eight miles to go. My girlfriend just called and said supper is ready.”

What could I do? If I could drop a twenty on Hallowe’en candy to leave on the porch for neighborhood goblins, I could buy this guy enough gas to reach his warm supper and waiting girlfriend.

I handed him a couple of dollars and he thanked me, then warned me to watch out for strange things, like a werewolf on a bicycle. “I saw one just down the road,” he said. “Any other night and I would’ve shot him.”

He loped off into the store then, presumably to pay cash in advance for his gas, though I noticed he hadn’t stopped very near the pump. I finished cleaning the windshield and filling the tank, then walked inside to visit the bathroom.

I noticed that the guy had not returned to the van, and didn’t see him when I walked into the store.

You can guess what happened next: as I emerged from the grungy men’s room, he was standing at the counter with a fist full of ones and two Steel Reserve tall boys — 24 ounce cans of cheap “high gravity lager” (8.1 percent alcohol) that the Urban Dictionary describes as “the best bang for your drinking dollar.”

Can you guess that I was ticked? I don’t know what Jesus would have done — maybe turn the rotgut brew into a premium craft beer and have one with him, for all I know — but Jesus and he would both have been walking.

And I don’t know what I should have done, but what I did was walk straight to him and say “I thought you needed gas. I never intended to buy you beer. I’d like my two dollars back, please.”

He picked out two folded bills and handed them over. “No problem, sir,” he said.

I left with a divided mind. The man seemed to be beyond shame, but should I have caused potential embarrassment by confronting him in front of the cashier? Having been on the short end of a wreck with a drunk driver once before, and having considerable concern for whoever might end up in his path, I just couldn’t contribute to his getting behind the wheel with two oversized brain hammers.

If only he’d wanted a couple of foot-long hot dogs instead . . .


  1. This is Liberalism in action, but this time you got to witness your hard-earned cash being wasted on something you would never have bought for him yourself. Despite your good intentions, which is the essence of Liberalism, the recipient's "stewardship" demonstrated first hand why such a philosophy doesn't work in the aggregate. Just imagine how many taxpayer dollars are similarly wasted in countless well-intentioned government programs all over the country every day.

    Your demand to get your money back shows you're really a Conservative after all. Despite their rhetoric to the contrary, most Liberals live their own lives like Conservatives. I just wish they'd apply the same logic when it comes to spending other peoples' money.

  2. Thanks for telling of your encounter. An example where our Christian walk meets a broken world. I like that you challenged him on filling is car with beer in order to get him home for supper:-) I am reminded Christ challenged his followers to carry soldiers packs an extra mile, or to give someone who sues you your coat as well and other examples of unfair God things. Evidence of following Christ should sometimes turn our thinking upside down. His teachings do not easily fit into our paradigms of justice and accountability, not that these are bad in of themselves, but we need to make room for expressing undeserved kindness, grace as it were to change our way of looking at the world.

  3. Rather than taking the opportunity for name calling ala DC's snide remark, why not focus on the real issue. My experience of 35 years in the pastorate is concise. I always say, no, to cash requests. I explain to beggars that the many lies over the years have caused me to close my heart to even the most convincing story. I literally buy the gas and sometimes buy a sandwich for whomever I determine is sincere. I'm sure that is not foolproof but at least I haven't bought them their next drunk.

  4. In response to your prior posting ("Tall Boys and a Tricky Question"), I think your feelings are entirely understandable. It was a setting that called immediately and starkly to mind the awful events that led to Bethany's death. In some measure, that event will remain with you for the rest of your days upon this earth, And you will be starkly reminded of it at moments when you least expect it.

    There is literally no way on earth (or in any other place, for that matter) that I can even begin to enter into what that experience was, and continues to be, like for you. And you are surrounded by many many folks (including me) who would "fix" that pain if we could.

    But alas, we cannot. And you cannot.

    And knowing full well that I cannot really know what you are feeling about this, may I venture a gentle appeal for you to be kind and gentle to yourself when these moments come. You have done all that you can do on this earth for your wonderful daughter, And despite the pain of seeing that fellow spend the money you had given him on the drug that was the instrument of Bethany's untimely death, you responded with restraint and self control, and that fellow went away entirely oblivious of the pain he had inflicted upon you.

    May the grace of God, and the peace of God, be with you, my friend!

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