I was leaving my complex yesterday, headed for a doctor's appointment, when I was flagged down by an older gentleman. I stopped, rolled down my window, and said, "Howdy! What can I do you for?" "Which way you headed?" he asked. "Taking Magnolia to Van Buren," I replied. "Okay," he said, "Can you give me a lift to the bus stop?" "My pleasure," I told him, "Hop in."
During our short journey, I learned a few things about my new passenger. He was unable to drive, thanks to an act of identity theft wherein the thief had not only damaged his credit, but racked up a DUI in his name. In a cruel irony, my now car-less passenger had once been a driving instructor. He had taught for the government and several colleges since 1950, and as a Marine prior to that, teaching Navy and Marine personnel during the second world war. (As he related this, I slowly shifted from my default 'single-hand casual' position to a solid, by-the-book 'ten-and-two' grip on the steering wheel. I'm sure he didn't notice. Well, pretty sure.)
His hearing was poor, and when I realized that my occasional "Uh-huh," "Okay," "I see" responses were just confusing him, I shut up entirely. He said he had little hope of straightening out his identity mess, as many of his papers had been lost in a fire, and the only other person who could have helped him was deceased. When I asked him where he was headed to, he told me he was headed to the hospital to visit his ailing wife.
"You can let me out here," he said, and I pulled over. As he opened the door and gathered his things, I cursed my pending appointment, which I could not miss, and could not reschedule. I looked at him, this man whom I had not even met ten minutes before, and I suddenly wanted to take him wherever he wanted to go. It then dawned on my that I never got his name. As he climbed out of the car, I reached out my hand and said, "My name's Jack. I didn't catch your..."
Too late. He hadn't heard me, and before I could repeat myself, he closed the car door, waved, and said, "thanks for the lift" through the open window.
As he walked off toward the crowd at the bus stop, and I resumed my trip, I couldn't help but ponder the injustice of his situation. I wondered bitterly how many illegal aliens were cruising around out there on driver's licenses they shouldn't have while this nice man--a WWII Marine vet--shuffled onto the city bus to visit his sick wife. I was suddenly in a very dark mood, and I mentally kicked myself for not getting his name. Maybe I'll see my mystery passenger again someday soon. If I do, I'll make it a point to ask. I wish you and your wife well, old timer.