“You came all the way from Grossmont Center? I’ll give you gas money.”
The wife and I like cream in our coffee. So do our kids. Trader Joe’s in La Mesa charges $3.29 for a half-pint. Walmart charges $4.14 for a full pint. I resolved to make the extra stop.
As I left Trader Joe’s, four plainclothes policemen hustled a handcuffed man into an unmarked SUV, its red and blue flashers tucked next to its head and taillights. That same SUV pulled around me at the intersection of Grossmont Center Drive and Murray Drive and sped off to the north. I ignored the omen.
I noticed the slight blonde with the brindle boxer as I turned into the Walmart lot, mostly because she was crossing in front of me. As I left the store, I saw the same plainclothes officers stuffing more handcuffed men into more unmarked SUVs. I also saw the blonde and her boxer in a Buick parked next to my van, trying vainly to push the car while still in the driver’s seat.
It was the starter, she explained. Sometimes, it helped to push while turning the key. I pushed the car, several times, to no avail. Having offered to help and failed, I was stuck, obliged.
“Do you need a ride?” Yes — to City Heights, to pick up a man who knew how to jimmy the starter, and then back to the car. Bentley, the boxer, did not want to get into my van. The girl had her own concerns. “How come you have this van?”
“I have a big family. Plus, my parents come and stay with us.”
She sat in back with her dog and made a phone call. I heard her say something about it being okay since she was in public and people could see us. I turned up the radio so as not to eavesdrop; it played “Tainted Love.” A Highway Patrol car darted from the shoulder of the 94 west and nabbed the car immediately in front of me.
The street was narrow — barely wide enough for me to ease my van between the rows of parked cars. The girl disappeared into a house, and Bentley and I watched a group of people in the fading light play tug-of-war with a huge German shepherd in their front yard.
The girl returned with Tom, the man, friendly and tattooed and grateful. “You came all the way from Grossmont Center? I’ll give you gas money.”
“It goes around,” Tom assured me. “One time, I was broken down and got picked up by these hippies; I wound up going with them to their Rainbow Gathering” — Burning Man before Burning Man. He chuckled. Another time, he rescued a woman in a Cadillac outside of Brawley and brought her clear to Alpine. “That was good: her husband was a foreman with Nassco and gave me a job when I got into town.”
I was late getting home, so I texted the wife:
“Giving ride to person with dead car in parking lot at Walmart. We needed cream. Good times.”
Came the reply:
“I bought cream at Walmart today.”