I was outside scraping ice off the windows of my 89′ Buick Century this morning when I saw Reuben. I was vaguely aware that he was walking towards me, but unsure of his destination, I didn’t take much notice. Eventually he got in conversational range and I was forced to turn and face him.

Now, before I tell you about Reuben I should tell you about my neighborhood. In less than two years we have: had our car broken into 3 times; had our shed broken into and our bikes, ladder, and miscellaneous tools stolen; seen homeless people loaded into the drunk tank; seen a car evade the police by jumping a curb; and more. That said, our neighborhood isn’t really a BAD place, but it merits caution. Thus begin my internal psychological dialog:

“Careful, who knows what this guy wants”
“Shut up, you’re being paranoid”
“I bet hes going to ask you for money, he wouldn’t rob you in broad daylight like this”
“You’re only saying that because he’s black”
“How dare you accuse me of being racist!”
“Well, if he were an old white man you wouldn’t say that”
“Well, OK, maybe you’re right. Let’s see what he wants…”

Reuben was older, wearing a plaid knit newsboy hat, some sort of synthetic brown pants that were impervious to stains or wrinkles, and a couple of layered jackets. He seemed friendly and I said hello. He asked me for a ride to Kaiser, his car had broken down and he was late for a Doctors appointment.

“He seems nice, I want to help him”
“Maybe he’ll pull a gun on you when you get into the car”
“He is NOT going to pull a GUN”
“Well, you should hide your wallet just in case, you have a lot of cash right now”
“Fine, I’ll hide my wallet, sheesh”
“And ask him a few questions first, like where his broken down car is and stuff”
“OK, OK”

So I asked Reuben where he lived, which he shared, and where his car was, which he pointed out to me at the end of the block. Taking him to the Doctor would mean I would be late to work. Oh well, thats OK. I told him to stand back, I wanted to pull the car out so he could get in the passenger side without trudging through a snowbank. He stood back and I got in the car. To my shame, I took my wallet out of my pocket and hit it under the floor mat in the back seat. I pulled out into the street and waited for him to come to the passenger side door. He had some trouble with it, my doors are old and heavy, so I gave it a nudge and it popped open. Reuben grabbed the door handle and I saw his hand shaking.

“Man, we are such jerks”

I started driving to Kaiser and we made small talk. He told me that he worked for Gates Rubber for 20 years, fixing flat tires and replacing dead batteries for their vehicle fleet. We spoke about the best way to get to the Kaiser parking lot, though I had decided to head for the front door. He kept wanting me to drop him off far away so as not to inconvenience me. At one point I asked him his name, since he hadn’t told me yet, and I told him mine. We shook hands, and then he told me, again, that he worked for Gates Rubber for 20 years. Reuben also told me he was 82 years old. I found that hard to believe, but I have always had a hard time judging ages. I like to think of everyone as ageless, living forever, so age shouldn’t matter. Someday maybe.

I dropped Reuben off after making sure he had someone he could call for a ride home, and wished him luck. I still don’t know if I should feel good about myself for helping him out, or bad for thinking the worst. I wonder how many people wrestle with their subconscious like this. I guess that will give me something to think about for a while. All in all, not a bad start for a Thursday.