Thirst Quencher

Posted July 21, 2011 by jimhigley

I made a late night run to the local Walgreens recently. And, in addition to coming home with their weekly special of three cartons of pop, I came home a wiser man.

We recently moved to a new town so every day we seem to learn new things. Like where to get our dry cleaning done or who has the best Chinese take-out food. We’re also getting used to some of the customs and quirks that local folk don’t think twice about like jumping on a bike to run an errand. We never used to do that! But, its good. It forces us to think differently.

One of those new things takes place at our new Walgreens. There’s usually a man standing outside their front door selling a copy of the current Streetwise magazine. Maybe you’ve seen one of these guys in your neck of the woods. Ours is always friendly and confidently offers every drugstore patron a chance to purchase his goods.

“Not today,” I’ve said to him probably twenty times in the last month.

You see, I perfected the art of turning away street vendors and beggars over years of working in downtown Chicago. I convinced myself it was the best thing to do. Just say “no” and move on. I became a master of pretending that I didn’t notice any one. I didn’t think twice about walking by someone asking for my help. The years of compassion that both my mother and father taught me seemed to go by the wayside.

But I’ve noticed something different in our new town. People weren’t ignoring the man standing outside the Walgreens store. In fact, many people not only purchased his magazine, they would also stop and talk to him. And, on numerous occasions, I’d see people walk out of the store and hand him a cold drink. I’ve been watching this with a combination of curiosity and guilt. Guilt for my prior actions. Or, more accurately, my lack of actions.

So the other night when I was running in to stock up on pop. I was surprised to see the Streetwise vendor still there. It was late and extremely hot. And, it was just the two of us.

“Good evening,” he said to me.

His smile made me stop. The air was so heavy and I could see the sweat beading up in rows on his forehead.

“Would you like something cold to drink?” I asked him. “It’s terrible out here.”

Without hesitation he grinned and said, “A Mountain Dew would be much appreciated.”

The dad in me wanted to question whether or not he should be drinking a Mountain Dew this late at night. I know if my own kids downed one of those after nine in the evening, they’d be bouncing off the walls all night. But who was I to question this man?

“You got it,” I said to him. “I’ll bring it to you on the way out.”

Inside the store, I loaded my little shopping cart with pop. I also did some impulse shopping and picked up a case of bottled water and some donuts for the kids for breakfast. And, I purchased one, cold jumbo bottle of Mountain Dew.

When I walked outside, I handed the bottle to the man.

“Thank you, my friend,” he said to me as he appreciatively took the bottle. I wasn’t planning on stopping to talk to him but something told me to stay.

“How long have you been out here?” I asked him. “Its miserable.”

“I know,” he answered. “I’m getting ready to head home.”

I was wondering where his home was when he continued, “You need to buy one of my magazines young man,” he grinned. “There’s a picture of someone you might know on the back page.”

And, with that, he opened up his magazine to the last page and showed me a picture of a smiling face. It was his smiling face. My Mountain Dew friend. And, the story that accompanied it was titled “The Streetwise Guru.”

“How could I turn that offer down,” I joked with him. “How much do I owe you?”

“Two dollars. And, you need to read the article when you get home.”

I bid him goodnight and walked to my car. As I left the parking lot I saw him start to pack up his goods to go home. Wherever that might be.

When I arrived at my own home, I stayed in the driveway a few extra minutes to read the article on the last page. It was written by my new friend, who I learned was named Ira. Ira wrote about humility and said, “Our relationship with each other should always be humble, loving, and caring.”  He went on to share his own feelings about spirituality as well as his perspective on life and relationships. It was beautiful. But it was one of the last lines that really struck a chord with me.

Lets all love each other and help each other just a little more.

And I just sat in my car realizing how ironic this all was.

I thought I was quenching his thirst that night. Little did I know that Ira would be the one to quench mine.