He was short and rumpled and round of belly, looking for all the world like a Salvadoran Bilbo Baggins. I introduced myself, and shook his hand, which was soft and slightly moist. The story came out haltingly, though his English seemed perfectly serviceable. He was out of work. Work was hard to come by. He needed money for food and money for rent and money because he was low on gas, and could we help? I said sure, but that we didn't have food here and didn't give out money. I was, however, happy to go with him to the nearby gas station and fill up his tank. It meets a need, and given where gas prices are, particularly in Bethesda, that ain't nuthin' these days.
He said sure, OK, that'd be good. He smiled. I gave him the number of a nonprofit that works with emergency needs in the Latino community in our county. He looked at it. Oh, said he, I went there, they can't do anything for me.
Ah, thought I. I've heard that line before. But it matters not. We don't give just to thems that are deservin', after all. You give to those who ask. Period.
We chatted for a moment about how tough times are, and then I told him to follow me to the gas station, and he nodded his assent. We take a right, go down this street, and then take a left, and I'll get you gas, I said. He nodded. Thank you, he said.
I hopped into my van, and watched him get into his aging Civic. I pulled to the street, and waited for him to follow. He did. I signaled right, and pulled out down the street slowly so he could follow. A moment passed. Then another.
Then he pulled out, going in the opposite direction. Not in any particular hurry. Just not following me. Going the other way, away from twenty or thirty bucks worth of free gas. I slowed down, and muttered bemused wonderment under my breath. I did a slow U turn, and watched as his car disappeared around the bend.
There's just no pleasing some people, I suppose.