It was raining hard last night when I left work, so instead of hiking over to the ferry as usual, I walked over to the 16th Street BART station, and rode downtown. I strolled across the rainswept plaza to the Ferry Building. Inside, I stopped to fiddle with some important matter on my phone. After a couple minutes, I was approached by someone and without looking knew I was about to get hit up for some change.
“Sir, it’s my birthday and I just need 50 cents so I can celebrate” was the gaff, delivered by a guy a little younger than me. He was wearing a black watch cap and sweatshirt and some other foul-weather gear and looked like he lived outside.
“What kind of celebration are you going to have for 50 cents?” I asked. Really. And I realized I probably did have 50 cents in my jeans pocket.
“Well, actually I could use any kind of change at all,” he said. I looked at the coins I’d dug out of my pocket–two quarters, a dime, a nickel. Then I thought about how much money I had on me. A coworker had needed to borrow twenty bucks earlier in the week and had just repaid me. I had another twenty in there, too, which I was going to use to buy our customary Friday night drinks–a beer for me, a white wine for Kate–on the boat.
What the hell, I thought. I took out my wallet, took out one of the twenties, and handed it to the guy. “Don’t celebrate too hard, I said.”
He thanked me, then looked down at the bill. And then he grabbed my hand and really thanked me. He had an urgent, almost shocked look in his eyes. “Take care of yourself,” I said. “It’s wet out there.” I thought: “Is it your birthday? Doesn’t matter. How much difference can that cash really make?”
If I’d really been thinking, I would have asked his name.