Inspiration Road. I don’t know why it’s called that. It cuts under the expressway in Mission, Texas and leads north through Mission or south towards Mexico. There isn’t anything really inspiring about it as far as I can tell. I never really travel the road either. I remember it only as a lonely road with scattered wooden frame homes and empty fields all along its edges, but that was a long time ago, and I am sure it has changed a lot since then.
But recently the expressway through Mission has been undergoing some expansion, and some of the expressway on-ramps and exits have been shut down. The detours take me and hundreds of other drivers off the expressway and onto the frontage road and Inspiration Road intersection. This means we are all at the mercy of the red light there, which seems intent on breaking all world records for red lights.
Today, while I sat behind 30 other cars waiting for the light, I saw a man in a wheelchair begging for money up ahead. It was way too hot to be outside, was my first thought. My second was how did he know this intersection was now a good place to do this? Yeah, I’m a little cynical sometimes. I have never seen a lot of people here in the valley asking for money, but I’m sure there are a few here and there. And they seem to have a network because the moment an intersection gets clogged down with traffic, they all suddenly appear. My third and fourth question were, how did he get here and who dropped him off? I also wondered if he did this all day here, or does he go to various places every day?
I edged forward in line and watched him. I had a twenty, a five, and a one-dollar bill with me, and I was not in the mood to let go of any of it. I knew the longer this line took, the better the chances were of me parting with my money. He knew that too, or he wouldn’t have chosen this spot. As he sits there, I see him reach into a large plastic mug he is using, take two bills out and fold them neatly into the small triangles and drop them back in his container. I figured he did that so they won’t fly out if the wind picks up or, so you won’t see all the money he’s collected. Who’s going to give money to a man with a container overflowing with cash?
I thought about things while I waited in line and watched him. I remembered a time many years ago when my wife lost her job. We lost our brand-new house and one of our vehicles right after that. It was a rough time. One night my daughter Lauren spent the night at a friend’s house, and we were so relieved, because we didn’t have any food in the house. We had no cash and not a penny in the bank. We found an old frozen bag of french fries in the freezer and a can of chili in the cupboard. We found 2 slices of cheese in the fridge. That was literally the only thing we had in the house. We dined that night on the best chili cheese fries we ever had. Things eventually got a lot better. Occasionally, when we went out to eat somewhere we would order chili cheese fries, but they never quite tasted as good as that night. They probably never will.
The line moved along, and as I got closer to the man in the wheelchair I guessed that he was probably about 50 or so, but looked much older. His legs were as thin as sticks, though the rest of his body wasn’t. He looked like a man that used to work hard for a living. I could see the sweat bother his eyes. There was no sidewalk where he was, so he had to push through dirt and rocks to move along. The temperature gauge in my car read 102. I edged up next to the man, and he did not even look at me. Traffic moved on and I passed him by one car length.
I felt bad passing him, and I am ashamed to admit that I did pass him while holding on tight to my wallet. I thought to myself, the guy probably has more money in that little bucket of his than I do. Probably makes a good living at this. Then, I looked in the side mirror and about two car lengths behind me, someone threw out a rolled-up dollar bill which missed him completely and landed in the street in front of him. There was no way he could get to it, and no one got out of their car to get it for him. He stared at the crumpled-up bill on the street. The cars started honking for me to move forward. I was about to move up, when I saw those little words on the bottom edge of the side-mirror. His wheelchair seemed to be sitting right on top of them…OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. Dammit. Dammit, dammit, dammit! I got out of my car and went around the back. I opened the hatch and took a cold bottle of water out of my cooler. I also grabbed a brand-new Batman cap I had back there. I went over to the man and gave him the water and cap. I also took out the 20 and the 5 out of my wallet and gave that to him. I saw that those two one-dollar bills that he had folded into triangles were the only things in his container. I looked around for the bill that was thrown but couldn’t find it anymore. By then everyone was honking for me to move. I started walking back to my car, when I noticed one truck trying to get my attention, honking more than the others. I thought to myself that I better find a woman in labor or, someone with a completely severed limb in that truck, with all that racket they were making. The guy in the truck rolled down his window and handed me a 20-dollar bill. I gave it to the old man and went on my way.
I believe that the words on the mirror were true. We are all closer to each other than we appear. We are all just one step away from having things happen to us that we can’t control. Everyone has tough times. No one is immune to it. The only cure to the misery that comes with that, is the kindness that we are willing to show one another.
I crossed Inspiration Road with one dollar in my pocket and almost no gas in my car, and perhaps…just a bit inspired.