Drive-through beggars

Usually, Stephanie and I shopped at Woodman's — huge store, low prices. Steph thought their produce selection was subpar, and she was right, so we usually bought fruits and vegetables at the Co-Op, where most everything is organic and/or fair trade, and thus pricier. Steph just about literally chirped with anticipation whenever she was in the Co-Op's produce department, and if I still shopped there I'd probably cry remembering her happily almost-singing about "all the pretty little vegetables" and the fantastic meals she was going to make them into.

With Stephanie gone, I never go to the Co-Op any more; Woodman's produce might be sub-par but that's good enough for me. Still, shopping at Woodman's always puts Stephanie at the front of my mind, just remembering all the specific things she liked and bought there, or wanted me to buy there. Her preferred brand of hot dogs, and box of crackers; her reduced-sugar juices, her Asian noodles, her specific brand of that weird cheese that comes in a ball and floats in its own juices. Walking the aisles at Woodman's is like walking through memories of Stephanie — and while that's a little sad, it's generally a good thing. Almost all the memories of Steph are good memories.

I've mentioned shopping at Woodman's before, so why bring it up again? Well, there's an ongoing scam in the parking lot. I'm usually shopping at Woodman's before the sun comes up — fewer customers makes steering a cart quicker and easier — but when I'm running late and it's after about 7:00 in the morning, there's often someone circling the parking lot with a sob story, asking for cash.

The first time it happened at Woodman's, it was a man in a pick-up truck who said he'd forgotten his wallet at home, but he lived ninety miles away and desperately needed a tank of gas. I was 80% sure he was lying, but being in a good mood I said to myself, what the heck, and gave him five bucks. He didn't say thanks, only asked if I could spare any more money, and at that point my certainty that I'd been scammed went up to 100%.

That was maybe two years ago. Mentioned it to Stephanie when I got home, and she said she also would've given him five bucks if he'd delivered his lines well (and he had). But she agreed that I'd been scammed. Since then, if it's after sunrise at Woodman's, it seems there's about a one-in-three chance that someone will approach me in the parking lot begging for money.

And sure enough, this morning it happened again. I was driving slowly through the parking lot toward Milwaukee Street, when some man younger than me, driving a car newer and less dented than mine, turned in front of my car without a signal. I had to brake and wait because he was going about ¼ mile an hour so it took a few seconds before his car was beside mine instead of in front of it, and then he motioned for me to roll down my window.

Hmmm. Our cars were facing opposite directions on a one-lane passage across the parking lot, so for as long as we chatted no-one would be able to pass us in either direction, but there were no cars behind either of us. This better be good, I thought to myself as I rolled my window down, and it better be quick.

"I'm hoping you can help me," he said. He looked about thirty years old, white guy, clean-shaven, wearing a dirty t-shirt.

"I can help if you're lost and need directions." Unsaid: If it's money, absolutely nope.

"My wife has breast cancer," he said, and a zillion thoughts zinged inside my head, but mostly it was this: My wife had kidney failure, and she died.

Stephanie used to tell me I was "Zen," by which she meant that I have a peaceful disposition, and I'm not likely to fly off the handle. Haven't lost my temper since I don't know when, but it's been a while. Well, I lost my temper this morning.

"Go to Hell!" I said to this stranger in the other car, sternly but not shouting. "Burn in Hell. Barbecue your skin in Hell. Take your wife who doesn't exist and the cancer she doesn't have to Hell with you, and roast." I could've continued for quite a while, and would've liked to, but he was already driving away. For a moment, I considered following him and punching him in the nose, and other not-at-all Zen ideas. Instead I pulled my car into a parking space and seethed for a few minutes before driving home.

Coupla things I want to say: First, each of the dozen times or so I've heard sob stories in the parking lot at Woodman's, it's from someone sitting in a car or truck, so I guess "drive-through begging" is a thing nowadays, and that strikes me as tacky. And second, I understand poverty because I've been poor and times are tough and getting tougher, but I have no sympathy for scammers and drive-through beggars.

Putting away the groceries at home, I wondered what Stephanie would've done. She would've handled the situation better than I did, certainly. She'd have told me that saying what I said was a mistake, and even dangerous, since he might have pulled a gun or done something similarly insane. Instead I should've simply driven away, and no doubt Steph's correct about that. Guess I lost my temper because that schmuck unknowingly used my own sob story on me — the terminally ill wife he doesn't really have, I did.