What Would You Do?
I plan pretty carefully to make sure I've got all the bases covered. I know what route I'll take when I run my errands, and today that was a concern because my car was undboubtedly low on gas when I left the house to go to the Post Office this afternoon; I know this because the funny little yellow gas pump light came on--the one that means you've got one gallon left and that's all.
But the list of errands was the most sensible according to local geography (Post Office, electric company, bank , grocery store, gas station, home)--less than 10 miles round trip, no problem, even though my little yellow car only gets a shameful 15 MPG (my fault, I'm told, since I never drive on the highway). I knew I could get to the gas station before the tank ran dry.
It was when I left the Post Office that I saw a problem.
The very busy little state highway that runs through town has three lanes: one north, one south, and one turning lane in the middle. Traffic is surprisingly dangerous near the PO because of a bottleneck area thanks to incredibly poor planning by TPTB in MDoT (don't even get me started on this).
It was just beyond the bottleneck that I saw him:
an elderly man standing in the middle of the road.
There was a pick-up with a flatbed trailer parked in the turning lane, and it shouldn't have been there. I had to assume it was his truck since there didn't seem to be anyone in it. Because there's no verge on the sides of the road--it goes straight down into ditches that are at least 4 feet deep--I guess the elderly man must have thought parking in the turning lane was his best choice. But a choice for what? Why was he wandering up and down the roadway?
And there was more danger: It was 99 degrees and, with our high humidity, the Heat Index was over 110. That means that heat stroke is a serious concern. The old guy wasn't wearing a hat or sunglasses. At least he was still sweating--it's when you stop sweating that you're in serious trouble but most folks don't seem to realize that.
I pulled into the drive-up at the electric company, third in line, and I was watching in the rear view the whole time. Was there something I should do? The old guy was walking along the side of the ditch now--one short slip and he'd be down. I thought of my late stepfather who slipped during a walk and lay in a fire-ant bed in a ditch, waving for help that no one saw or heeded, old and frail and afraid and unable to haul himself out. After I paid my electric bill there were no other cars behind me so I idled at the exit for at least a couple of minutes, watching.
Surely this guy was somebody's daddy, somebody's grampaw. Was the old guy a little wobbly? Was he drunk? I got the cell phone out of my pocket and seriously considered calling the cops. But somehow I felt that I shouldn't. And even if I did call I wasn't sure if I should call the town police or the county sheriff because I wasn't precisely sure where the city limits ended, athough I knew it was somewhere around there.
Common sense says that women travelling alone do not approach strange men, even elderly men wandering on the side of the road. But no one else was doing anything! Cars were driving past and swerving around him, and no one was doing anything. So I sat there at the exit with my engine running out of gas; I had to do something. I saw space in traffic, pulled out, went down the road, and stopped by the man. I said, "Sir, are you alright?" And he came over and clutched at the door of my car. I thought, what am I gonna do if he tries to get in--this is bad. But he just said, "Honey, I done lost my license plate, and someone told me it was around here. I been lookin'."
Right at that moment there was a warning blast from a horn as my car was nearly rear-ended by a big diesel dually hauling trash. It really, really wasn't safe for me to stop there, and that was making it more dangerous for him, too. The man said, "I'll be alright." And I said, "Well, bless your heart, I hope you find it." (Hey, this is Mississippi here, we really DO talk like that.)
So I drove on, praying for his safety, and still wondering if I should have called the police, wondering if I should have offered to call someone for him, wondering if I should have done something, anything.
Sometimes we are put in the right place to notice that something is wrong, and frustratingly have to accept that the only way we can help is to watch and pray.
I probably should have called the police, though.