You know me. I’m not the most outgoing guy around, and I’m not exactly socially adept. I tend to avoid not just confrontation but conversation. So when I was walking out to get my mail this afternoon and, halfway down the driveway, noticed that a beat-up pickup truck was parked at the end, between me and the mailbox, my first inclination was to make a U-turn and let the mail sit until the truck was gone.
On the other hand, I really didn’t want to walk out to the road again later in the afternoon, and I was already halfway there, so I decided to chance it. Most people in that situation will just wave, or tell me they’re waiting for a tow. That has happened more than once, and I know that the reason they pick my driveway to break down in is that it’s the first one on my less-traveled street around the corner from the busy road.
When I walked past the truck, I noticed a logo on the side that read “Oakland Unified School District.” I was pretty sure the guy sitting alone in the passenger seat had nothing to do with any school, much less one as far away as Oakland. I was ready to wave hello and goodbye at the same time, but as I turned around after picking up my mail (and there was nothing there that was worth it anyway), he hopped out of the truck and started talking a mile a minute, if not faster.
“I know it seems like I’m on drugs,” he said, “but I’m not. It’s just caffeine. I just bought this truck and the engine died here.” He then proceeded to open the hood, as if I were the mechanic he’d called and he was glad I’d finally showed up. But no, he knew what he wanted. He needed a hose clamp, and he said if I’d lend him one, he’d return it. He pointed to the spot where it was supposed to be, and sure enough, there wasn’t one there. As far as I could tell. I wouldn’t know a hose clamp from a corset cover, and I told him so, without mentioning any unmentionables.
I pointed to the neighbor’s house. They have two teenagers who work on cars in their driveway all the time, so I thought they would be more help than I was. “My friend Louie’s on his way here,” he said breathlessly, “but I thought I might be able to get going before he gets here. If you want me to, I’ll push the truck out of the way. I have two other cars, but I needed one for work and hauling stuff, and this guy had this truck and he only wanted $500.00 for it. I thought it was a pretty good deal, and once I get it going I’m headed up to Red Bluff where my girlfriend’s family is from. That’s in Tehama County, you know?”
As it happened, I did know that Red Bluff was in Tehama County, but before I could let him know that, he carried on. “I need to get a car for my girlfriend’s son, too. She says he’s mine but I don’t think so, but he’s a good kid. He had to drop out of high school, but he’s really smart.” Trying to pry the picture of this kid out of his wallet slowed him down a little, but not for long. He asked what I do. “You work with computers? Do you build computers? Do you think you could get my sister a job working with computers? I could bring her out here and you could show her your templates.”
I explained, as much as possible, that I don’t have any templates that I thought would help his sister, but he was not dissuaded. “I do landscaping. I have a tractor, a tiller, a grass cutter and an edger. I’m really fast and I don’t charge much. Let me give you my phone numbers. The first one is Verizon and the other one is AT&T. Maybe we could just trade out some landscaping for some computer work.” I took his numbers and told him I’d call if I had any landscaping to do. “It would be easy to get the mowing done now, while it’s low,” he assured me.