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I left work and walked down the hill to the lower parking lot, feeling the sun and the cooler temperature soothe me. Work was fast-paced and physical today; I walked for miles before work, as well as obsessively did an insane number of push-ups at random intervals.

Because I’m not the brightest, I didn’t know that I had Google Fit on my phone until last weekend. Today’s tally by 1 p.m.? 25,000 steps. Please forgive me if it sounds like a humblebrag. The truth is that I woke up early this morning and felt compelled to wander the streets; evidently, all of them. 🙂

Walking down the hill, I saw a man with a black backpack standing at the Razorback bus stop. I said, “Hello,” as I passed him. “How are you doing?”
He returned my greeting and said, “Good, except waiting on the bus is a pain today.”

I crossed the plant barrier along the outer rim of the parking lot. For a moment, I thought I had my car stolen, though. At that point, it dawned on me that I parked in the parking garage this morning. (Stolen by myself and hidden from my memory.) I turned and went back up the hill and found my car. I assume it was mine, as the key worked. The odds of there being two tiny Chevy Sparks that color of spa blue was slim. After walking so much, I didn’t care if I had the wrong car.

I turned and drove back toward the lower lot. The man with the backpack still stood there. I turned into the parking lot, exited the car, and said, “Hey, this is going to sound weird, but do you want a ride instead of waiting for the bus?”

He looked at me with a bit of surprise on his face. “How do you know which direction I’m going?”

Without missing a beat, I said, “Pam told me.”

He was confused. “Who is Pam?”

“Exactly. I’ll take you wherever you want to go. Doesn’t matter where.” It seemed like a good gesture.

He bent and picked up his backpack and walked over, and got inside the car. “These are small, aren’t they?”

“I get a different car each time I gain or lose weight,” I said. “I should have been driving a Tahoe until last October.” I laughed.

I introduced myself and tapped my work badge to show him that my name is X. He told me his name was John.

“Where to?” I asked. “This is like non-profit Uber, so make your wish.”

“I’d like to go to Walmart, actually. It’s not where I was headed, but I can catch the bus again from there. Is that okay?”

“Yes, lord knows they need the money.” We both laughed.

He told me that he is a part-time student at the university. He wanted to go back full-time but couldn’t afford it this semester.

“It’s a long story,” he told me.

“Yes, and it’s a long life,” I said, laughing. “There’s not really a deadline for school. Keep going, even if you can only afford a class or two at a time. You’re going to burn through the years anyway.” I didn’t tell him I knew this from experience; the grey hair on my face and head probably made that clear.

I drove him to the Walmart by the mall. As he thanked me for the ride, I told him, “I’m going to Home Depot to return a can of paint. If you want, I can drive back over and pick you up.”

“Nah, that’s kind, but I can’t ask you to do that,” John objected.

“You didn’t ask me. I offered. It’s not out of my way.”

He thought about it. “Okay. I shouldn’t be more than fifteen minutes, but I’ll be by the garden center side of the store.”

He walked toward the Walmart entrance, and I risked life and limb crossing over to the opposite side of the road where Home Depot is. The traffic in that area is hair-raising on the best of days.

Thirty minutes later, I saw John standing where he’d said he’d be. He didn’t have a Walmart bag, so I assumed his purchases were in his backpack.

“Where to? It better be somewhere interesting,” I told him.

“To campus, if you don’t mind.”

“Mind? I’d love to see what’s going on there and ponder that it’s been 35 years since I first attended school there.” That’s a sobering thought, that expanse of time filled with a lot of living.

While I drove, John asked me about my name and the backstory. That turned into quite the conversational odyssey.

“That is cool, X.”

I dropped him off in one of the campus parking lots.

“Nice talking to you, and thank you so much for the rides. Most people wouldn’t pick up strangers, X.” John smiled.

“You’re not a stranger anymore, John. Besides, Pam vouched for you.”

He laughed unexpectedly.

I drove to the apartment, thinking about John and his story and how many thousands of people live a similar life here in Fayetteville. They arrived with plans and a timeline; life intervened, and they adapted.

Haven’t we all?

Love, X

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