I parked my car. In this spot. And now it’s gone.
I looked over to my fiancé. She opened her mouth to comfort me but couldn’t find the words. I clicked the alarm on my keys to make sure I wasn’t missing something. Silence.
My mind was blank. My hands wrapped around the straps of my backpack. I stood stopped in the middle of the walkway facing nowhere important. It didn’t matter where I turned because the reality of a $200 towing bill was everywhere I looked.
I heard a man say something over my shoulder. “You too?”
“Yeah man, I was here for an hour and fifteen minutes. I didn’t know anyone was keeping count.”
His brow lowered, and his demeanor did too. He pointed at an old car parked under a tree in the back of the lot. “He is,” he snarled. “He sits there all day with his mountain of cigarette butts. He starts the timer the moment you park your car. He calls the tow truck the minute you go over. And he collects commission. His soul is as black as his ash tray. That bastard.”
I stared blankly at the shaded car. It was as if I parked my four tires on one giant bear trap. The timer ticked, the claws clamped, and the con collected. I almost couldn’t process someone intentionally screwing me, so the thought that he planned to ruin my day lit a fire inside of me, and I started to boil. My body began to shake. Half of me wanted to go over and scream at him. I wanted to pour my hot wrath into his lap and lock his door until he melted or called my car back.
In the midst of fantasizing my revenge, I felt something else stir inside of me. Even though the shock of that financial strike was looming like a dark cloud over me, I saw a glimmer of something different when I looked over at that car. I realized everyone else who had gotten towed probably felt the same way I did about that man. He kept his eyes tucked underneath his dash. It was as if he was hiding from the horde of homicidal haters just above the horizon of his hood. He almost looked ashamed. Having a job that made everyone hate him probably wasn’t what he wanted to do when he grew up.
I got the sense that the old man behind that wheel wasn’t a monster. And the fact that most people look at him like a modern-day Grinch made me feel like he was the one who really needed someone to love him. I felt like God whispered for me to lean through my anger and go over and talk to him.
So I walked over–half shaking from anger, half shaking from the absurdity of the ask. I didn’t really know how to start the conversation: “Uhh, hey there. You just towed my car, and I hate you. How’s it goin?” I kept walking and decided to just introduce myself. I stuck my hand through the windshield and tried to muster up a smile. I saw the black mountain in his ash tray littered with the ends of cancer sticks. The trash was just about as scattered as his response. I found him in his hideout and unsettled him. Nonetheless, he put his hand in mine, cleared his throat, and said, “My name’s Andy.”
I started asking him questions about his life and his family and his hopes and dreams. Andy is almost 80 years old. He sits in a hot car all day and does a job he doesn’t want to do because he doesn’t have enough money to retire on. He has a wife he’s been married to for 45 years and an entire family of children and grandchildren, some of them still live with him and depend on him financially. His voice was coarse from the cigarettes he used to take the edge off the stress, and his nose was bandaged from a recent cancerous surgery.
I looked close–past the anger, past the coarse coating–and I really saw him. I saw the commitment to provide for his family in every sweat bead on his forehead from the heat of the Texas sun frying his un-air-conditioned car. I felt the loyalty in the callouses on his hands that held tight to his marriage and his family even when statistics shout improbability. And I saw the longing for rest in the bags under his eyes as they sagged with the gravity of guilt.
Five minutes ago, I was planning outright assassination on this man, and now I felt nothing but compassion for him. Andy is a person–with a heart, with a life, with hopes for a better job and dreams of retirement. And he is stuck somewhere he didn’t want to be…waiting…hoping. So I asked if I could pray for him. We grabbed hands–only this time as friends–and I prayed that his family would be blessed and that his nose would be completely healed.
We parted ways after that until I ran into him one month later in that same parking spot under that same tree. I walked up to the familiar chimney of a window and stuck my hand through the soot frame. Only this time, his smile was less wary, his white beard had grown in thicker, and the bandage on his nose was gone. I asked him how he was, how his family was doing, and what was new in his world. After we chatted for some time, I asked if I could pray for him again, and his eyes lit up. He told me he went into the doctor the day after we met a month ago, and they said his nose was completely healed. He said in that moment, he remembered I prayed for him. It was so beautiful because when we say yes to God’s crazy invitations through our fleeting anger or fear, He shows up big time.
This time around I prayed God would give him another job. Hopefully the next time I roll through he won’t be there. Either way, before I said goodbye, I asked the bastard that towed my car if I could give him a hug, and we both left smiling.
Cover Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons