Jack Sparrow: I'm dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly…stupid.
—Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)
This evening I realized that we were out of a couple of staples, so I headed down to the local SuperFresh, so that Wee One would have something for lunch tomorrow. It was one of those odd times when you go inside and it’s light out, and then you leave and it’s dark. As I got to my car, I was approached by a man. He told me a story about how he and a friend were installing a water heater on a street about a block from my house, and the job ran long and the guy paid with a check that they couldn’t get cashed and they were very low on gas and could I spare a couple of bucks?
I’m actually used to this sort of deal; it’s a common scam. Variations of it involve a need to get bus fare to get to thus-and-such location. Once, Daughter and I were in a rest area in Georgia when we were hit with the low-on-gas story. That’s when I came up with this response:
“Well…I don’t have any cash on me. But if you follow me to the gas station I’m happy to put a couple of gallons in.”
The guy in Georgia balked at the offer, but this guy went for it. I told him which station I’d meet him at and took off. He followed me down to the gas station and I put in $10 worth, which is more than I’d intended but still may not have been enough for his stated destination (Taneytown), given that they said they were practically on fumes when they got to the station. They thanked me profusely and offered me their information, or alternately for mine so they could make it up to me, but I let it go.
So maybe I got taken for ten bucks, maybe not. I look at it this way:
A little over ten years ago, I was in the Port Authority Bus Station in New York City when I realized that A) It was after midnight and my monthly bus ticket had expired; and B) I didn’t have any money or credit cards on me. (I don’t remember why this was the case.) I had to ask a passing pair of strangers for two bucks so I could get home. They actually came through for me, but seemed suspicious when I didn’t head directly for a gate. I had to explain to them that I was going to the ticket vending machine for the bus ticket. You could give cash to the bus drivers then, but you got an attitude for it. At any rate, these folks came through for me and allowed me to go home, and if these guys were telling the truth, then I’ve finally paid the favor forward.
So was I a hero or a schmuck? You make the call.