Thus revealed, the creature buried its nose in the tire-tilled soil...
June 15, 2023
Category: Serious … Travels

I hate myself.

So today I was driving to a session when I spied a guy standing by a car on the side of the road and frantically waving for me to stop.

I am extremely hesitant to stop for folks on the side of the road. I once knew a guy who, after stealing a car, apparently ran it into a ditch and banged himself up and -- now visibly in need of assistance -- stood waving for help on the side of the road. When a family indeed stopped to render aid, he carjacked them at gunpoint. And while I hope and maintain that *most* people wouldn't do this, given my close knowledge of the risks I am wary as all heck when it comes to folks on the side of the road.

Moreover, this relatively isolated curved stretch of road was just off of an exit, and it's a turn I've taken at 80+ miles an hour -- and because at least at one time the main road was as potholed as any Baltimore city street, many drivers would largely forgo the road for the use of the shoulder. This is a dangerous fucking place to be standing outside of a car and trying to catch the eyes of the speed demons flying past. *I'd* never choose that place to stand. And yet I know that if I *were* in that situation I'd really be in trouble, and I'd hope to hell that someone would stop for me.

Dude was also some flavor of South Asian: which of course doesn't make him a terrorist or a threat. But unlike some would claim, I acknowledge that I *do* see color, and stereotypes did pop into my head, and the situation was definitely *not* favorable to me if he proved dangerous, so the observation was among many things I processed in the seconds before I arrived at my decision. But ultimately my desire to help a person in need overruled my fear at the unlikely possibility that this guy would live up to a stereotype with which our society has unfortunately saddled him. And since I know I'd want people unavoidably mulling these concerns to ultimately make the choice to help me, I decided that I needed to extend that courtesy to this dude.

So I slid to a stop some distance from his car and rolled down my window while he approached. When he finally reached the window, he told me that he was out of gas -- whereupon I asked if he needed a ride to a nearby gas station. He replied that his wife and kid were in the car and that he didn't want to leave them. (It occurred to me in the moment that I should try to glance back to confirm that he did in fact have his family in the car. It also occurred to me that looking back might require me to take my eyes off him, and I was not fucking taking my eyes off him.) Then: he asked for my hand. No, he didn't want to marry me -- 😛 -- he wanted me to reach over and let him take my palm for some unspecified reason. And I sure as shit was not having that. Yea, give me your hands if we be friends -- but we be not friends, my curious ethnic man seemingly stranded on a dangerous stretch of road! It felt like a weird trap, and I had no earthly idea how it was going to work, so I refused. In hindsight, I think he might have wanted my hand so that I could test the weight of the gold chain and confirm its authenticity: because the next thing he did was remove a heavy gold chain -- 18K, he said! -- from his wrist and offer to trade it cash. And this was WEIRD. Like: dude is stranded and waving on the side of the road. A car stops to help him. His opening gambit: offer to barter GOLD for COIN.

I told him I didn't want his chain -- the authenticity of which, btw, I imagined I had no way of verifying and no knowledge of how to do so in any case! -- I just wanted to help. We went back and forth on this three times -- "Take my chain" "Dude I don't want your chain" "Take my chain" "Dude you can keep your chain" "Take my chain" "DUDE" -- before he REMOVED HIS ALSO 18K GOLD RING and added it to the pot. And now I am HELLA suspicious. Like, what the hell was happening? And I was annoyed: I needed to get to my fucking session on time and he was delaying me and I had no idea what the traffic presently looked like on the other side of that curve but it was often pretty shit so I wasn't overwhelmingly optimistic. Finally, after a few more volleys, I said, "Dude. Keep your chain. I will *give* you some gas money." But then another thing popped into my head: "Wait -- how are you getting to the gas station??" To which he responded: "I still have about 2-3 miles left in the tank." And NOW I'm convinced this is some stupid scam, and that I've been taken advantage of in some significant way (did the "wife" in the car write down my license plate for the purposes of identity theft? Did the dude record his exchange with me so he can AI deepfake my voice? Did they have some RF/digital hacker device to steal information from my cards and phone?), because if one had gas to GET to the gas station why would one be waving frantically on a lonely stretch of road? (It later occurred to me that a South Asian family loitering at a gas station and begging for money from passersby might not be the safest situation for them, and so an area where they might be less likely to be harassed and reported to police might be preferable and the kind of scenario they might be likely to anticipate. In the moment, however, I remained highly skeptical.) But also I thought that anyone who would go through this must really need some fucking money. So I gave the guy $10, which I figured would either give him a few more gallons to get to somewhere where people might be able to give him more assistance or at least get him and his family off the fucking road because they met their target intake for the day. (I also didn't have a $5 on me, though I guess even if I had I'd have chosen the $10 given gas prices out here.) And he looked down at that outstretched $10 bill with such fucking disdain. *That's ALL??* He *snatched* up his chain and ring -- which is good; I DID NOT FUCKING WANT THEM -- and then, after taking the $10, said, "Come on, man. At least give me $20." And now I'm thinking, The fucking audacity. Dude flags me down on the side of the road; I ignore my arguably sensible (and admittedly partly prejudiced) hesitation and stop for the guy; I resist his weird potential scam-gold-trade assault because I didn't stop to help a dude on the side of the road because I expected to profit from the interaction; I *give* him $10 to get him a little farther in his quest: and treats me with contempt and asks me to further empty my pockets for him! I'm thinking, Dude. Dude. You are not Jesus and I am not currently enjoying a mouthful of delicious pineapple falafel. Dude. I said, "That's what I've got, man."

He walked away without so much as a thank you.

And I hate myself because I "fell" for this thing. Googling confirmed that this is totally a scam tactic, which doesn't surprise me. But this is also totally the kind of thing I would fall and have fallen for, because if I don't actually know about the scam in advance -- even though it occurs to me during the exchange that it's potentially a scam -- my moral calculus compels me to help given the possibility that it *isn't* a scam. And honestly, sometimes even if it is, I feel like somehow I'm helping. Maybe I placed some doubts in the head of the scammer, since for the scam to be maximally successful the victim has to be interested in profiting from the gold trade and enthusiastically offer more than what I was willing to give. And maybe it was better that the dude encountered me -- he wasn't violent and I'm not violent, but had he met someone more inclined to accost him for various reasons that exchange might have had violent ends.

Nevertheless, in my case, this was a scheme that exploited my compulsion to help a dude I perceived as in danger and minimal capacity to exercise empathy and desire to avoid acting in response to negative racial images, and it kinda makes me resent myself for possessing virtues. Which is weird to say and weirder to ponder, but really. I don't believe in heavenly rewards for good deeds, and it doesn't make me feel better about myself (and didn't *even in the moment*) in the way that helping someone I wholly believed to "legitimately" be in need might have, and I don't even have a fake gold chain souvenir -- which honestly I might have considered a fair trade, since I'd have gotten an artifact out of it that would have reminded me of an interesting encounter where at least I got a fun trinket out of being scammed. (I'd probably delight in pausing to have folks test the heft of it, perhaps in comparison to an authentic 18K gold chain if I could acquire one for a sane price.) And I kinda get why some folks oppose government welfare efforts (and why they might be skeptical of racial justice/DEI/etc advocacy to the extent that those could simply be a grift by minority groups), since they feel that too many of the people benefiting from them are this dishonest. "The government sincerely wants to help for good reasons (though probably more folks think the government is sneakily trying to buy votes, sigh), but these unscrupulous assholes are taking advantage of its generosity and effectively stealing *our* money!"

But I also kinda feel like my experience confirms why I feel the opposite: individuals have no resources to properly vet scammers in an *attempt* to confirm their legitimacy (at least not in the moment and without taking their eyes off the potential scammer; I briefly considered taking out my phone to investigate the gold or offer to call him some help but thought he might snatch it through the open window and run). At least the government could make scammers work a little harder (not via work requirements, but through creating a paper trail that could be investigated if the need arose), and ostensibly the government -- and we the people -- could feel positively about helping at least some folks who are truly in need and out here trying to do *good*. This was just shitty, and I feel shitty about it, and it further confirms my conviction that I don't belong in a shitty world that seems maximally calibrated for shitting on me.

Oh well -- at least my $10 bought me redoubled self loathing and an extra push towards the edge of that blessed precipice. (And perhaps an obsession with reading reports about roadside/parking lot/travel hub scam tactics.) And it could have been worse if I were different: in another timeline I might actually have been interested in his scam and given him an amount I'd *really* have been pissed to have lost (though I'm still pretty mad about the $10). So I guess there's that. I only lost by a field goal! And perhaps I've repaid with interest my debt to the universe for hitting that possum (because there's no fucking way the life of one of those horrors is worth $10).

Silver linings.

-posted by Wes | 2:11 am | Comments (0)
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