My brother and sister-in-law have raised their two boys to judge their actions by asking themselves was this a good choice or a bad choice. They have been wonderfully successful in raising two great kids. (I know, I know, Aunt Pickle is just a little bit biased). I can’t tell you how cute it is to see a four-year-old standing in his pajamas in the middle of the night saying, “I think I made a bad choice.” (Sorry, boys, but it is an Auntie’s prerogative to embarrass you – wait until you start dating and I pull out the naked baby pictures!) However, it is not so funny when as an adult, you suddenly look around you and think, “Oh shit, I made a bad choice.”
So here is the situation… For years I was traveling for work from Tuesday through Friday every week. I really enjoyed my time and frequently arranged to see friends or family while I was in some city, somewhere, in some state. This particular situation found me in San Diego, where a friend was working at the military port – so being a take-advantage-of-the-situation kind of person, I arranged to meet him for a late dinner. I took a cab from the store I had been visiting directly to the restaurant where we were meeting. Somehow, we managed to order way more food than we could eat. Muscles, clams, fresh bread, pasta with cream sauce, and on and on – ending with chocolate silk pie. (I know what you are thinking – why should you care what we ordered – trust me, it’s a critical piece of information.) So we sat and talked and drank and ate as much as we could. Eventually, we decided that if either of us were going to be of any use the next day, we needed to call it a night. Soooo, in the brilliant way that I can be, I had a short conversation with myself that went something like this:
Me: “Hmm, I wonder if I should call a cab to get back to the hotel?”
Me too: “Oh come on, it’s less than a half a mile – after all that food you should just walk.”
Me: “Okay, that sounds like a good plan.”
Notice how easily I convinced myself of the soundness of this plan. I really am easy to get along with – especially with myself. Nary an argument abounds.
So, since no one else wanted to take the monstrous amount of leftovers with them, I said I would. I had a small fridge in my room and thought that something in the bags and boxes would make a good breakfast. I packed up the goods and set off on my short half-mile walk to the hotel. So far, so good. Here comes the first flaw in my plan – the hotel was much farther than I thought. That’s okay – I had been around the hotel during the day – it is beachy and touristy and bright and sunny… Except now it is 10:30 at night… still beachy, but now not so touristy, and definitely not bright and sunny. In fact, as I looked around, I realized it was really dark and scary and very skid-rowish. Okay – I have just made a very bad choice.
The first thing I do is stop, look and listen – great advice if you are crossing train tracks – not so much when standing in what looks like a tent city. As I look around, I also notice the total lack of traffic (meaning good luck finding a cab), no public transportation to speak of, and I am too far from the restaurant to think about returning there safely. Okay – no problem, just pull out my cell phone and call a cab! Sure! I think. That’s a perfect solution – completely forgetting that my battery died hours earlier after a 3-hour conference call. I fumble the food into my other hand, dig deep into my purse – and voila! Nothing. Now I am feeling a little (okay, a lot) like a sitting duck. I also seem to be attracting attention – having dumped out almost everything from my purse to find the dead cell phone.
Fine – think fast. Next option… I have done a fair amount of volunteer work over the years with the homeless population, and while I may not be a great judge of situations, I think I am a good judge of character. (Oh, come on – stop laughing.) So, I start to look around for someone that I think could help me. (In all fairness, I should mention that I also picked up a decent size rock while picking up the contents of my purse. I would have had a pocket knife (albeit not a superweapon but…) except that since 9/11, pocket knives don’t travel well. I also run through what other items I have in my arsenal, and I think FOOD! I have lots and lots of food. And what can I do with my food? Why give it away, of course. So hatched my cunning plan.
Stop cringing – those of you who know about my cunning plans – this one really is. (If you need to know more about my cunning plans, follow this link, and all will be clear – Why Do People Cringe When I Say I Have a Cunning Plan. ) Alright, here is my cleverly hatched, incredibly brilliant, over-the-top smart, fantastically devised cunning plan: I will offer my leftovers to the biggest, strongest looking homeless man willing to walk me to my hotel! See, I told you it was cunning along with keeping a firm hold on that rock.
So I look around, and lo and behold, I spy a tall man with a bicycle, backpack, and dog, complete with dreadlocks and a Rasta hat. He’s perfect! So I walk over to him, holding the bread out in front of me like I am offering it to a snapping turtle, and begin to ask if he would like my leftovers. I’m not sure why, but he looked at me like I was a martian. Seriously, the look on his face roughly translated to, “Who are you, what are you doing here, why are you talking to me, what planet did you arrive from, and don’t think I’m going to share my spot with you.” Okay, strike one for the cunning plan. So my leftovers and I (and the rock in hand) move on to the next guy.
Just to recap – young woman, alone, 10:30 pm, dead cell phone, skid row, San Diego, food, rock, cunning plan…
Try again. “Excuse me. Would you like some of my leftovers? I have some great food, but I’m looking for someone to walk with me to my hotel. Are you a serial killer? No, I’m not inviting you up to my hotel. No, I’m not. No! I have a rock.” Strike two.
Recap again: a young woman (I am too….), alone, 10:30 pm, dead cell phone, skid row, San Diego, food, rock, cunning plan, about to be arrested for solicitation…
Okay, this time I get smart – no really – no, stop laughing! I find an older man walking in the same direction that I am. “Excuse me, sir. I see that you are heading in the same direction I am. Would you mind if I walked with you? In fact, if you are willing to walk me to my hotel, I have a whole bunch of really good food I would love to give to you. To clarify, I want you to walk with me down the street. Nothing more. I’m not inviting you to my hotel room – just the front door. Wait, why are you laughing? I didn’t think it was that funny.”
And thus began the most interesting mile and a quarter walk through skid row in San Diego that I think I have ever taken. I guess, in all fairness, it was the only one I have ever taken. What happened was the first gentleman walked me about 5 blocks and handed me off to the next one, taking only a portion of the food I offered. The next man walked with me for a few more blocks and then did the same thing – some food, new escort. The third walked me to the door, accepted the rest of the food, and said I could probably put down the rock. Each man wanted to know why I was walking alone and how I got into such a crazy situation. We talked about family, and they each told me of their children – how they got to where they were – and how lucky they thought they were to have another day. They likened me to their daughters and how they hoped if, in the same situation, each girl could be so clever (yes, they really said that…) and find a way to be safe. They thanked me for my generosity and wished me well on my way – but more importantly, they each thanked me for the conversation – for just being willing to listen and share a part of my life with them.
Was I ever really in danger? Honestly, I don’t know. But I learned a lesson about people that night, and I learned about myself.
- I probably will never be mistaken as a prostitute.
- Sometimes my cunning plans actually work.
- In extreme situations, you sometimes have to trust and take a leap of faith.
- Sometimes those we think of as less fortunate have more to give than we do.
- A human connection is so essential, no matter who you are, that each and every one of us has something unique to offer to another.
- There is more to an individual than just what you see – that they are father, brother, son, mother, child, uncle, sister, friend, aunt, husband, wife, person.
On this father’s day, I think of these men who made sure I safely went to my hotel. They were each a father to a daughter long lost to them. And I think for just a few blocks, and a few moments of time, I was able to comfort them by needing their help. After all, from the day a daughter is born, a father wants to protect her – from others, from herself, from life. And sometimes he can, and sometimes she is just so bullheaded that nothing he says will get through.
I have two fathers – one that gave me life, and one that gave my life to me by raising me to be the woman that I am – strong, wise, smart, (stop laughing, I’m getting to the rest…) foolish, faulty, and able to turn a bad choice into an amazing experience. As an adopted daughter, I am in the perfect position to say that blood doesn’t make a family – that a sperm donor does not make a dad. That dad is the man that picks you up and carries you to the couch when you tumble down the stairs. He is the man that teaches you how to use a table saw because you are interested. Dad is the name earned by the man that questions your decisions and points out hard truths. He is the one that carries you inside when you trip and fall – loans you the car and cares more about you after the accident – listens to your stories, even when you are on the 8th telling – will make Swedish meatballs when you ask – and pancakes when you don’t. Dad loves you through your bad choices and helps you find a plan to make it better.
Not every dad is a man either. So many dads are single moms doing duel duty between mom and dad. And they do their best, giving and caring in the same way a single father is also “mom.” To all the dads out there – male, female, present, missing, far away, and close beside – your daughters, thank you for your love.