A couple of months ago, I had a voluntary social function with officemates on a weekend, starting earlier than I like to get up on the weekends. I did what I usually do when I absolutely have to wake up early on a weekend and leave my apartment – I spoiled myself with a McDonald’s breakfast.
In a bit of a rush, as I was of course running late, I parked my car and ran for the door. As I was crossing the parking lot, I noticed an incredibly skinny early-20s man sitting on the sidewalk, leaning up against the wall next to the door. He we dirty, with holes in his clothes, and looking at the ground, seeming sad.
“I hate this,” I thought as I approached. I always feel bad for these people, addicted or not, homeless or not, and I sometimes feel bad enough to give them money even though I know that’s probably the worst thing in the world I can do for them. I tried to steel myself against what I knew was coming . . .
“Can you spare anything so that I can get something to eat?”
That’s the very worst, pleading hunger to me while sitting on a sidewalk in the richest nation on the planet. As usual, that particular question got to me. No matter how many times I’m manipulated this way, it still works.
“I’m sorry, I don’t have any,” I said. Which was true. I almost never carry cash because my check card is all I need.
I ordered my breakfast, thinking about that guy on the sidewalk. I ate my breakfast, thinking about that guy on the sidewalk. I cleaned my booth, thinking about that guy on the sidewalk.
I walked back to the counter and ordered a meal for the guy on the sidewalk.
I even paid the up-charge for the orange juice because I figured he could probably use the Vitamin C. I headed towards the door with his food, proud of myself.
And the bugger was gone.
I eat very fast, and there was no line either time I ordered. I could not possibly have been inside that restaurant for more than 15 minutes. And he bailed. I walked around the restaurant, wondering if he’d just moved. No joy.
So, there I was, with hot McDonald’s food in a bag, already running a few minutes late to the office social function that will require me to leave said smelly food in my car for 3 hours in a sunny parking lot on a 90-degree day.
There was no way that was going to happen, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw the food away. What to do? What to do?
I remember the teen and young adult homeless shelter two blocks away, and how the kids mill about early in the morning waiting for the doors to open. I knew I’d find someone there. Hell, I might find the guy for whom it was originally purchased!
I drove the few blocks and, sure enough, there were five or six kids milling about under the old oak tree. None of them was the guy who asked me for food money. I pulled up, stepped out of my car holding the bag and the drink high, and called over to them “Who wants breakfast?” with a big grin on my face.
The only girl in the group raised her hand, shouted, “I do, I do!” and ran over to me. I smiled at her and told her, “I bought it for someone else who didn’t show up, so this is your lucky day!” She thanked me, took the food and drink and asked, “You from New York?” I laughed and said, “No, honey, I’m a Southern girl!” She raised an eyebrow and said, “You don’t sound like it. But thank you!” She smiled and ran off, back to the gaggle from which she’d come.
I got in my car and drove to the office function feeling pretty good about myself. I felt even better that afternoon, after the function, when my car didn’t smell like old Egg McMuffin.