The other night, as I was coming home from J.'s birthday party, I saw a man with a walker beginning the long, slow trek up the hill by my house. It was 11 pm and about 30 degrees F, he wasn't wearing a coat, and I knew where he was going - to the rehab center about 1/4 of the way up the hill.
He was walking in the road. On the edge, but in the road. I worried that an on-coming car would hit him there in the dark.
I ran through the checklist in my head: police? Silly, when I knew right where he was going. Rehab center? I doubt they would come out into the cold for him.
And so I swung my car into the next driveway and turned around.
"Do you need a ride?" I asked. He first declined, but I insisted, not wanting him to be hit by a car.
Plus, look. I grew up in a place where our Peugeot was not infrequently filled front to back as we drove up-country. My brother and I would start in the middle seat and end up in the back-back as my parents picked up random people on the side of the road. It isn't often that I feel safe giving rides to men in the US (I have given a ride to a girl in this town), but he was a rehab patient with a walker. I wasn't exactly worried.
It wasn't until he had ever-so-laboriously lowered himself into the car and I had folded the walker and stuffed it into the back seat that I realized that the combination of hospital smell and cigarette smoke was going to seriously alter the air quality of my car, possibly forever.
And it wasn't until he got out of my car, ever-so-laboriously, at the rehab center, that I remembered what I had seen at the beginning and forgotten: only half of his rear-end was covered by sweatpants. The rest was enjoying the cold winter air and had been enjoying my passenger seat.
"Do you want a hug?" he asked, and years of politeness training lost to the instinct not to be touched by strangers.
"No, thanks!" I said, setting his walker in front of him. "Be safe!"