We met my family for 'brunch' on Sunday at a cute little restaurant in Gilbert. Over delicious food, we wished my oldest brother a happy birthday and talked about the upcoming holidays. Driving home, I skipped the freeway in favor of streets that take us by big houses and huge green yards dotted with horses and herding dogs.
Soon enough, the suburban splendor gives way to a pocket of town between the meal and home where you're more likely to see big families pushing a stroller and dragging 3 little ones down the road, each of them clutching a few bags from the grocery store. Doing their part to get the food home without a car. People hanging around outside convenience stores in a way that's completely benign but instills a small flutter of caution in my belly if the store they are haunting is one where I need to stop for gas.
We sat at a red light talking about our plans for the rest of the day, when suddenly my husband asked why I thought that big white car was stopped at such a funny angle, halfway in the center lane used for left turns, one turn signal appearing to blink but showing them turning the opposite direction from that which the car's nose was pointed. My gut kicked in and I answered, "Who knows." and looked up at the red light, waiting for it to change.
"I think they need help," my husband answered. And so, as the light turned I flipped on my blinker to get over to the right lane and turn onto the road behind the car, but someone was in my way. Instead I decided at the last minute to go straight and make a right into the convenience store's parking lot. My husband was compelled to go see why the car was stopped where it was, hastily blocking half a lane of traffic. I'm not as good a citizen as he is and would have driven on, but the truth of my husband is this: you never doubt that you're safe when he's around. It's not just the fact he's bigger than most other men. It's not even his street smarts from growing up in one of the worst parts of the Valley. It's just that I always assume that his knack for talking to people and making them feel instantly safe with him around will transfer to strangers. Even strangers in dodgy cars in dodgy neighborhoods.
Just as I parked the car, a big guy - bigger than my husband - stepped out of its driver side door and went around back to begin leaning his body against the rear fender. Not thinking twice, my husband had his door open before our car was in park and was darting across 2 empty lanes to help. I watched him as he leaned into the trunk as well and his whole lower body hunkered down to move the car forward slowly on sleepy wheels. Within a few seconds, they were crossing the road and the big man was jumping in the front seat to steer the car into the lot where we were parked.
"What's daddy doin', mama?" asked Rohan in back.
"Don't worry, buddy," Luca answered before I could, "he's helping that man with the big car. It's the right thing to do, you know."
A lump sat in my throat as I smiled and caught her eyes in my rearview mirror. I nodded in agreement.
Seconds later, Darrick was pulling open the passenger door. "He ran out of gas," he told me. "Oh," I stupidly answered. My brain wasn't connecting what he was saying, so he did the work for me. "Right over there, on that corner...that station has gas and this one doesn't."
We turned out and made our way to the convenience store across the street. He grabbed a fistful of dollar bills and went inside. I watched him in my car's side mirror as he disappeared through sliding doors and reappeared with a gallon jug of water. Stopping by some plants, he emptied the whole thing and then came to the pump. Three dollars later, the gallon jug was nearly full and we left the parking lot to go back over to the man with the big white car.
I pulled intot he spot right next to him, all 4 of our windows down because the kids were curious and wanted to hear what was happening. "You came back." said the man, astonished and grateful.
I reached behind my seat and pulled out an empty water bottle. With a pocket knife, the man cut out the base of the bottle and used it as a funnel to pour a gallon of gas into his car. Darrick talked to him as he did so, in a voice I couldn't really hear. And anyhow, even if I'd been able to properly listen in, The Grinch was on the radio and the kids were demanding that I turn up the volume.
Getting back into the car, Darrick told me the man had thanked him. He worked just down the street at a restaurant as a chef and had worked an unusual early morning shift to make some extra holiday cash. He thought he had enough gas to make it the three miles home, but obviously he'd been wrong. He turned toward the convenience store to get gas, forgetting that it was the one across the street that had gas pumps. He had offered Darrick money as a thank you. Darrick turned it down. He offered us a free dinner the next night at his restaurant, and Darrick said we'd try to make it.
He thanked us profusely. I put my hand on my husband's arm as we drove away, told him he did a good thing.
"Nah. He needed help. We've all been there. It's the right thing to do, you know," he replied, as Luca caught my eye in the mirror and smiled.