The Kindness of Strangers

27 Aug

Last night Jeff and I went to see my favourite band. Well, favourite band that still actively tours, but they’re still in my top three bands I love of all time. The Hold Steady playing a free outdoor show; sounded like the perfect evening.

For the most part it was too; we ran into some friends, the openers were moderately entertaining, we drank bad beer and people-watched and let the exhaustion of our weeks slowly slip away from us. It wasn’t too hot out and we got a good place to stand. All in all, an excellent concert.

During the wait before the band came on (which was long – I’m compulsive so we got there early) we sat on a picnic table drinking beer and talking, and when Jeff got up to get a beer this guy wandered over. Fairly nondescript, lanky, brown hair and bearded, and a pretty sweet tattoo of a robot fighting a dinosaur on his left forearm. He asked if he could sit with us and I said okay.

That’s the thing about shows like this. People are chill. The Hold Steady attracts a crowd that’s sort of a weird hybrid of hipsters, hippies, party people, druggies, college kids, older folks… you name it, we saw it there. He sat with us and we talked after Jeff came back with beer. His name was Zack, he’d just gotten back into town (Lincoln) from Austin Texas, he liked bands like The Hold Steady and Radiohead and Modest Mouse.

As the conversation progressed he realized that he’d left his phone in his friend’s car. His friends were supposed to come back to the show, but he had no way of contacting them without his cell phone, and the crowd was getting large and milling, making finding people next to impossible. He was clearly stranded, stuck in Omaha over night, with no real way of getting back to Lincoln save for camping out in a doorway overnight and then hopping a train in the morning (his idea, not ours).

So Jeff and I offered to give him a ride home. It seemed reasonable. The guy seemed nice even if some aspects of his personality were (in retrospect) a little shady and weird. It was the kind of crowd where drugs were easy to come by, and it’s a fair chance that he was on something, or several somethings, by the time the night was over.

We met him after the show outside the Slowdown. He thanked us profusely for letting him tag along with us to Lincoln. We get to the car, my sister’s Honda Civic, and I start climbing into the backseat, shoving my purse and sweater and other things in front of me.

It was at this point that several items from my open purse spilled out into the backseat.

Zack insisted that he sit in the back, that he didn’t want to inconvenience me by making me sit in the back all crunched up (2 door cars are a joy like that), and so I let him into the back and got into the passenger front seat. That was how we rode home.

I did not grab my purse out of the backseat at this time.

We drive the 50ish minutes or so back into Lincoln, and we’re all very conversational and nice. Zach asks us questions that seem innocuous, like what kind of car we were driving in and what jobs Jeff and I had and other things of that nature. Things that only seem suspicious in hindsight.

We get to Lincoln and he asks us to drop him off at 14th and O street. He complains repeatedly that he really, really needs to go to the restroom as we’re driving into Lincoln, and as we pull up to the sidewalk and we let him out he’s definitely in a hurry, stopping to give high fives and handshakes but definitely in a hurry.

No worries, I figure. He just needs to pee. Look, he’s even walking funny he has to pee so bad.

We drive the mile or so back to the apartment and as we get out of the car I head for the backseat, starting to gather up my things.

It is at this point that I realize my wallet is missing.

Genuinely missing, not just misplaced or shoved under one of the seats or under a sweater. We tore that car apart, which didn’t take long as it was small and recently cleaned. And we realize there’s another reason this guy was walking funny. Probably a reason he asked so many questions about our lives. A reason he hightailed it out of there before we noticed anything was wrong.

I go inside, immediately call my bank to cancel my credit card, and begin taking inventory of all the things I had carried in that wallet, that long rectangular bright red ladybug wallet I loved so much. My driver’s license was in Jeff’s wallet since I’d needed it for the show and didn’t want to take in my whole purse since I knew I’d be dancing. My cash was in my pocket. Overall my net losses were my library card, my now-cancelled credit card, my insurance cards, my old student ID, my birth control pills, a couple of expired giftcards and some receipts.

He also took my day planner. Why he did that is completely beyond me. It doesn’t even look useful.

He got nothing important. Everything in that wallet is replaceable, even with a little hassle. He didn’t get anything like my social security card or my computer passwords. The planner had my address in it, but we live in a secured entry building two blocks from a police station. I have my driver’s license. I can replace my insurance cards. I have another pill pack I can use to take my medication. Inconvenient, but manageable.

It just sucks is all.

It sucks that we do this guy a favor, two normally not very trusting kids, and he thanks us by stealing something of no use to him. He tells us what kind of person he is. That he judged us by our well-maintained car and the answers we gave about our lives and our jobs. He determined that we were clearly doing well enough that he needed my things more than I did.

Or he was just high out of his mind. That’s also a possibility.

Jeff and I are doing well for ourselves. It’s easy to judge people by their covers, we all do it all the time. I work a damned good, well-paying job. We were driving a very nice, still very new looking car. We gave the impression of being college kids even though I’m not and Jeff’s only part time.

Impressions are dangerous. Judgments are dangerous. I don’t work any less hard for my money because I work in an office for a corporation that gives me benefits and paid time off. Jeff doesn’t work any less hard because he’s a part time student. We still get help from our parents, yes, but we’re young, and extremely lucky, and we’re grateful. Painfully grateful. We never acted like we were better than this guy. That was something he invented for himself.

So it hurts. It makes me rage that this is what kindness to strangers will net you in this world. It makes me want to track down this guy and punch him in his face. Or at least get Jeff to punch him in his face.

We were up until 2 or 3 sorting things out, and sleep was nearly impossible.

Once I got there though, I did okay. I woke up and felt better, not just from getting the rest.

My memories weren’t tarnished. The show was still fresh in my head and it was still as glorious as I had remembered.

It really was an amazing show. This is the third time I’ve seen The Hold Steady, and they just keep getting better and better. We muscled our way close to the front, and after six solid months of listening to their music at least daily I knew all the words to all the songs. I was that kid, screaming along with the songs and pounding my fist in the air.

I forgot everything in those moments. Music profoundly affects me, and there’s a reason I love it. Normally my brain is a hyperactive chittering mess, like a squirrel on speed suffering from ADD. I’m always dealing with at least five things on my mind: work, impending grad school, my comic, my novel, what to make for dinner, various songs I like. It’s busy up in here.

The music and the crowd washed it all away. I thought of nothing in those moments but being right there, right where I was, singing along and feeling exuberant joy at experiencing The Hold Steady the way they were made to be experienced.

Nothing can take it away. Not even some asshole who decides to rip off a couple kids who did him a solid.

Thanks for trying buddy.

So maybe I’ll be more reluctant to help strangers now. I usually am anyway. But it’s not all bad. My friend Jen saved a guy’s life last night by being a kind stranger, calling 9-1-1 when she noticed him passed out on the sidewalk. When I first met Jeff he was a stranger, in a friend-of-a-friend just met kind of way, and I DD-ed for him so he wouldn’t have to drive on his birthday.

I’m cynical. I’m jaded. This incident has lowered my opinion of humanity, made me feel foolish and caused me a lot of trouble.

But everyone’s different. We all have our reasons for the stupid shit we do, even if this guy’s reason made no sense to us.

As Jeff said, he’ll get his. Especially since we have every intention of filing a police report.

But I won’t let the best part of the evening be taken away. That concert was fucking amazing. So, nice try buddy, but your assholery is just a tiny blip on the radar in my life, and after time, I’ll forget you, and just remember the music.

Stay Positive.

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One Response to “The Kindness of Strangers”

  1. heideelahree August 27, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    The “like” clearly wasn’t for what he did, but for your conclusion. Great attitude.

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