Payback’s a bitch…oh…wait…that’s not right…

I live and work in a very large metro area…the Dallas area in point of fact. Locally known as the “Metroplex”, or in our more irritable moments, the “Metromess”. With more than 100,000 new folks a year moving to the area, it has grown to encompass a good dozen surrounding cities and simply absorbed most of the smaller towns as suburbs. We also call it “DFW”…as the two major cities, Dallas and Fort Worth, have merged into one large metropolitan area.

It’s so large, in fact, that I can depart on the east side of the metroplex with a full tank of gas on The Dragon (my Valkyrie), and require a fuel stop before I exit the west side.

You can get…or do…pretty much anything you could want to. A frantically busy and happening place.

There’s a dark-side though. The short of it is there is a significant chunk of the population, probably around 3 million people, within 100 miles of me that would con me out of my last dollar, run my ass off the road without a second thought, or maybe even shank me for the $8 bucks in my wallet.

Those 3 million all have a story. They all have a spiel. I encounter a LOT of these people. I work in and commute to the downtown Dallas area and that means seldom a day goes by where I don’t get to hear a sales pitch, am nearly run off the road, or endure some other attempt to deprive me of my life, money, or time.

I DO give to charities, and individuals when I have the resources and feel I can make a difference, but you get a feel for these things. Mostly, if they have a ready sales speech, approach you directly, and/or can’t let you get a word in…they’re the professional con or beggar type, and my money generally doesn’t go there. Most folks put off a “vibe” and over the years and with very good instincts, I’m adept at picking that up.

If there’s a bad vibe…or no vibe, or even a doubt, or I’m tight on resources (rule #1, NEVER make yourself a victim), I do not help. I’d be on the street myself, inside a week, if I just gave a couple bucks to anybody that asked.

So, yeah, I can be cold-hearted. It’s MY money. I traded part of my life for that stuff.

So, yeah, three million people in close proximity that would take my last dollar should I let them. It can be depressing.

But what that means…and what I have to continually remind myself of…is that on any given day that leaves around 14 million more folks in that same 100 mile area that are basically decent people, just trying to get by, doing what regular people do.

***

Little Rivet…the grumbly little Chevy thing…had a low tire yesterday. Since I just checked ’em a few days ago, this means I’ve got a pointy thing incorrectly stored or some other issue that requires correction.

With an impending surgery, a frantic work/etc schedule, and Da ‘Altima the Sequel stuck in the body-shop getting de-crunchafied, I don’t need this.

I need this like I need…well…like I need a hole in a tire.

Now, I’ve been in this area a while (good gawd…we’ve owned this house over 25 years) so I have a couple “go-to” tire/auto guys for when I can’t do the work myself. They’re generally not “cut rate” on pricing, but I know they’ll at least be reasonable, do good work, and usually not rip me off.

I’d finished a workout, a had a few minutes before I had to leave for work, so I zoomed by the closest folks I use.

Two minutes later:
“Tire’s shot. You took a nail in the inner sidewall.”
“Of course it is.”
“We don’t carry that brand, but we’ve got that size in a similar rating and tread. $95 including tax, mount/balance and stem.”
“Go for it.”

It happens. My vehicles are used for what we need ’em for. Miles happen. So, stuff does too.

Ride ’em hard, fix ’em when they break.

Little Rivet in particular sees some hazardous duty…picking up building supplies, working in the field, disposing of debris at the dump, and the like. Tire poking kind of work. I guess I should be glad it doesn’t happen more often.

Fifteen minutes later:
“Done.”
“What’s the damage?”

He hands me an invoice, and I scan it while reaching for my wallet. I pause, the final total out is “$0.00”

I indicate the total, “What?”
“You remember that kid? Trey?”
“No shit?”
“Yep.”
“We’ll I’ll be.”
“Yeah. He said to tell you he’ll pay it forward too. You saved his life or some shit like that.”
“Heh. Nothing that dramatic I think. Glad it worked out. See ya next time?”
“Yep.”

***

Flashback a couple months or so….

Screaming out of the driveway, headed to work, I do my typical pre-flight on The Dragon while already piloting the big cruiser down the alley.
“This thing got brakes?”
*taps both brakes*
“Check. Tires?”
*does a couple “S” turns, glances at TMPS*
“Check. Even got TWO of ’em. Any gas in this thing?”
*glaces at trip meter*
“Hmmmmm.”

With a tank that holds 4.3 gallons to reserve and 5.3 to bone dry, this is a common occurrence on this machine. My rather enthusiastic throttle habits add to the issue. Y’all don’t think I ride this monster to be particularly restrained, do ya? A quick pit-stop at the gas station just before the highway was in order.

As I pulled in I passed the air/water service area. Young guy there in a mid-2000 Toyota sedan was airing up a tire. I noted this only out of habit or in passing. Normally I’d have forgotten it as soon as I departed the station.

Except…as I was fueling I saw him finish and get back in the driver’s seat. When I finished fueling and started to depart I noticed the car was still there. I couldn’t see the driver though…or the driver’s seat…it had been laid back apparently.

I idled by. Yep. He was in there. Lying back, hands over his face. Something was up. I dampened the tunes, circled back, and pulled close beside his driver’s door. Still astride the Valk, I tapped on his window.

“You okay?”

He sat up quickly. He’d been crying. That stopped fast. It doesn’t matter the circumstances. In this world we guys know we aren’t allowed those moments. For most of us those lessons were not subtle.

I pretended not to notice.

The window rolled down.
I repeated myself. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” a pause, “well, maybe.”
I killed the engine and popped my helmet off. It was hot and I had an inkling this conversation would take a few minutes. Now I could hear his front tire leaking. The one he’d been airing up. “Sounds like your tire’s bad.”
“Yeah. I don’t know what to do.”
“Got a spare?”
“It’s bad too. It shredded a hundred miles ago.”

Details I’d already noticed subconsciously resolved themselves in my mind. He was a working man/kid. Farmers tan and lean build indicated construction or such. He was traveling, based on the stuff piled in his back seat. Probably moving. There was a well worn tool-belt on the passenger floorboard and a plastic toolbox in the seat.

More details. His car was probably okay but more tires than just the one I could hear leaking had problems. I could see cords on the rear one.

He had a solid…vibe.

“I know a good tire place…” I turned and pointed across the intersection, “…right there.”
“I just put my last $10 in the tank.”
Yeeks. I thought a moment, maybe we could plug it…and he might get lucky on the cords.
“Where are you headed?”
“Port Arthur. I’ve got friends and a new job there.”

Long familiarity with my state kicked in and I almost laughed. “Dude. You’re not gonna make it on those tires. OR on $10 worth of gas.”
“I get pretty good mileage.”
“Yeah but,” I did a rough mental calculation, “that’s what? Four gallons?” I eyed the car, “Maybe a hundred-twenty, thirty miles to empty? You’re more than 300 miles away still,” I nodded at his car and repeated the obvious again, “…and those tires aren’t gonna go anywhere near that far anyway.”
I think he knew that, but his face fell.
“You got friends or family around here?”
“No. Hey, do you know where I can get some work? Just for today? I’m an electrician.”
“Not off-hand but there’s plenty around. We’re in a boom here. You said you have a job waiting?”
“Yeah. I start tomorrow if I can make it.”
“Hold that thought. I need a Coke.”

I glanced at his wheel, dismounted the Valk, and headed into the store.

On my way I looked up a number on my phone.
“Tire center.”
“Daniel Meyer. You have any good take-offs? 195/65/15 or close?” This is not a used tire place, but sometimes they have some good take-offs that haven’t yet been sent to the used market. Since this is not their ‘bread and butter’ and they don’t pay anything for the takeoffs, a deal can sometimes be made.
“Hey Daniel. Hang on.”

It’s not a small gas station. One of the “one stop shopping” kind of places. And I’m shopping with my phone in my ear. I feel positively metropolitan. Gad.

“Daniel?”
“Yeah?”
“We have a good set of 4, 65% tread, I can do $75 plus mount/balance, but that’s not a size for any of your vehicles we have listed. You get something new?”
“No. It’s for a kid that’s stranded. He’s kind of desperate. I’m buying. Can you do better?”
“Stranded huh. For you? Okay, sure. How about $10 and you pay mount/balance?”
“For the set?”
“Yep.”
“Damn! Now you’re just being awesome! We’ll be right there.”

Sometimes it pays to be a long term customer.

I finish my selections and hand the clerk my card. She bags it all and wishes me a nice day.

Outside I find the stranded dude standing uncertainly beside his car, eyeing the offending tire. Age-wise I believe he’d be called a Millennial, or perhaps “Generation Y”…except with his lean build and apparent work ethic he doesn’t fit the mold usually conjured up by those terms.

I find this true for most generalities. Why we continue to create broad generalizations on groups and try to cram people into their niche instead of looking at individuals and their actions/merits I’ve no idea.

I waggle my phone at him. “Problem solved. I’m Daniel by the way.”
“I’m Trey. Problem solved? You know where I can find some work?”
I reach in my bag, hand him a bottle of water and a breakfast sandwich.

Pro-tip: You can never go wrong with a breakfast sandwich…

“Well, you said you’ve already got work. I just found a way to get you there.”
He looks uncertain. “I can’t pay for anything, and I can’t leave my car. It’s all I’ve got left.”
“Yeah, I got that.” I hand him another one of my purchases, a prepaid Visa gift card. “There’s $50 on that for gas. Pay inside, not at the pump or it’ll end up with a hold on it. Should get you there…and if you’ll go right over there…” I point at the tire place again, “they’ve got some used tires for you. I’ve already covered it.”
“Seriously?”
I just raised an eyebrow at him.
“I don’t know when I can pay you back…”
“I’m not a bank. Not making a loan. You know the term, ‘Pay it forward’?”
“Yes.”
“There ya go.”
“Why?”
I eyed the worn tires. “I’ve been there…exactly there.” and left it at that.

I hopped on the Valk. I pulled a quick stop at the tire store to give ’em my card…and the box of donuts I’d grabbed at the gas station, “For being awesome!”

Pro-tip: You can never go wrong handing donuts to tire guys…

I also asked if they’d see if they could do something about his spare. Mumbling around mouths full of donuts they assured me they would.

And that, as they say, was that. I never expected to hear anything else about it, and could only hope it did some good.

I felt good about it anyway. Sometimes that has to be enough.

***

Back in the present, I eyed my new tire on Little Rivet and pondered the world around me.

People can suck, sure…

…but sometimes they’re pretty cool.

I’ll see you on the road.

CUAgain,
Daniel Meyer

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