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June 29, 2011

Cartersville is still a very hometown place, driving through the square you get the feeling that things haven’t changed here in a century, people just get places a little faster.  You feel that way at the grocery store too.  I walk into Ingles and inevitably see an old friend’s mother, a teacher, an ex, a principal, a boss.  No one is a nameless face in a crowd; somebody knows your name,  your face, where you work and where your kids (or you) went to school.  So it can be startling when I realize that we still all are nameless faces in a crowd to anyone not from this sheltered place.  Especially when you realize it at the cozy gas station plopped in front of the west end’s grocery.

Early this morning I rolled my battered Celica out of the driveway and towards town.  Mom gave me 30 dollars to put in the old girl’s tank.  That thirty was all I had and I wondered how far I could stretch it; if there’s one thing I hate paying for it’s gas… or well, anything I need for that matter.  Wants are just so much more fun to spend on.

There were two trucks parked under the fill station’s cover when I pulled in, and I knew their wallets were probably angrier than mine was at the gas pump.  While I prepared to part with my thirty dollars, both trucks pulled out and another pulled in without my noticing.

“Excuse me miss.”

I looked up as I was just pulling my debit card from the machine.

And middle-aged women, proably younger than she appeared, stood peeking around the pump. In baggy and drab work clothes, khaki ball cap on her head, she appeared to be heading to work.  Maybe at a Shaw plant, or Anheuser-Busch; wherever she’d done it, she worked her whole life.  Beyond the clothes, there was more to her appearance.  She looked desperately hopeful.

“You wouldn’t have a few dollars for gas money, would you?”

Before I knew what I was answering, I blurted, “No, I don’t have any cash.  Sorry.”

She slowly stepped away.  I guiltily watched my own pump rise $20, $22, $28…. I had nothing left to help her.

She climbed back into her truck and sat for a few moments.  I have never seen such a sorrowful and desolate picture up close in my life.

I drove away from the station, and soon after she did too.  I’ll never know if she got where she was going or the help she needed, or she if gave up after I let her down.  I do know that whatever happened after we met, it’s not her fault and it’s not mine either.

She was forced to desperate acts, to put all her dignity aside and ask me, a young kid at a gas pump, for help because someone else wants to make a profit off of a necessity.  The thing they need to have a livelihood, to support themselves, to live.  I denied one woman a few bucks on one occasion and the guilt is getting to me.

I can’t imagine what you must be like to be willing to risk millions of people’s dignity and livelihood for millions in the bank without feeling an ounce of remorse.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2011 9:40 pm

    Beautifully told, I’ll be thinking about this for days.

    As someone who has a hard time asking ANYONE for anything, I feel the pain and desperation of people who have been reduced to asking favors just to get by. Panhandlers are emotionally painful for me, because I feel so much for the position they are in, and I fear that spot so vividly that it’s like icewater poured down my back. I don’t feel so secure that I can’t imagine myself in their shoes.

    And I’m glad you can feel sorrow over not sharing – and yet also have a good enough head on your shoulders to know that you also have needs and a life to get on with. It’s a tough balance to achieve. I hope someone else helped her – maybe someone else who had more to give, or who might have needed to be doing some giving (to balance their lives). Someone like an oil exec… Or a banker…

  2. June 29, 2011 9:50 pm

    Thank you, Steve!

    I’ve always had a hard time dealing with my own tough financial situation, and realizing that there are so many other people as close to the edge as me and my family falling over the cliff every day is so scary and sad. And it says a lot about where we are today I think.

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