In retrospect, the experience taught me a couple of valuable lessons.
Mary and I made our weekly trip to Publix a couple of hours later than usual last Saturday night, and by the time we got to the check-out line, the staff of cheerful baggers was diminishing. We bagged our own groceries, and pushed our own cart to our car.
As I was loading our purchases into the back of our minivan, a young man on a bicycle pulled up behind me and launched into a well-rehearsed tale of woe. I couldn’t follow his story in detail, but it included mention of having had contact with police earlier in the day and needing money to get to another city.
Panhandlers do not offend me, but I rarely give them money. I gave him my usual response: “Sorry, I can’t help you.”
At that moment, a friend drove up, reached out to shake my hand, and quietly asked, “Is everything okay?” His arrival seemed to encourage the panhandler to take his leave, and I thanked my friend for checking on me. The entire episode was over in a couple of minutes, and it wasn’t until I was driving away that the pieces started coming together in my mind.
I was a chronologically gifted person in a largely empty parking lot late at night, approached by a person on a bicycle seeking money from me. He could have fled to his choice of two multi-lane highways in 30 seconds or so.
Had he pulled a weapon, or even knocked me down, I would have been easy prey.
So here’s what I learned:
Lesson One — My friend’s willingness to get involved by driving up and asking me if everything was okay suddenly tipped the odds in my favor. I sent him an email that night thanking him for his intervention. He replied, “You are very welcome. I didn’t know if the guy might be up to some mischief. Just wanted to be there for you.”
I have promised myself to do the same for others if I should witness a similar encounter.
Lesson Two — In the future, when shopping after dark, I will be sure to seek out a bagger, if necessary (and it usually is not necessary), to take my purchases to the car. While I would not expect him or her to engage in a physical altercation with a mugger, I figure that (a) the presence of another person would be a deterrent to someone with felonious intent and (b) the bagger could run back to the store for help.
No, I am not paranoid, but reflecting on what could have developed into a different scenario has prompted me to give a little thought to protecting others or myself in such circumstances.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He has written a book of advice entitled “Frisbie’s Laws.” One of his laws is “Always Have Plan B.” It had never occurred to him to have a Plan B for dealing with a panhandler. Now he does.)