Thursday, January 20, 2011

maybe we'll be picnicking friends...

I am not sharing this story with you because I am a wonderful person. I am sharing this story with you because I want you to think I am a wonderful person. Which I'm not. I only do certain things so better things happen to me.
For example, last night I worked late because I was meeting Brock, Eve and Sally at the Clift for a la-ti-da party about cocktails or curtains or something. Anyway, I rushed out of my building at 7pm wearing a ridiculous floral kimono, heading around the block to my parking garage.
On the corner, there stood a teeny, tiny African-American woman trying to get the attention of anyone walking by. She had super short grey hair and an Army jacket on, and she stopped me and asked, "Can you spare some money because I'm in trouble and..."
"I'm sorry." I said and looked right past her.
"I'm stuck." She said, shaking and freaking out and grabbing my kimono. "I had my husband arrested for beating me and he's getting out in three hours and I need to get me and my daughter to a shelter."
She said it so fast that I didn't have time to get away from her. And she looked so sincere, so serious, so desperate.
I have seen that look before.
I have seen that look in rehab.
It is the, "I know I look like the kind of person who screws things up but right now I am not fucking around look."
So I started asking her questions, much to the relief of anyone else on the sidewalk. They all looked at me like, "Good. She's your problem now."
I wasn't committing, tho. I just wanted to see how legit she was.
"Why are you here?"
"They told me I could find a shelter here, but it's full. They're all full." She was talking very fast, and continued, "I can get into a shelter in (another county) but I need to take a cab and I don't have enough money."
Apparently, all of the battered womens' shelters in San Francisco are full. And the shelter in this other Bay Area county would pay for half of the cab. So this woman needed to come up with $32.50. She had in her hands pieces of scribbled notes and information, an address of a place and quick answers to all of my side-eyed questions.
"How do you know it's $32.50? How do you know they have room for you? How old is your daughter? What is her name? Where do you live?"
She was on it, still giving me that look.
"I only have $7." She said. "I can't believe it, but I only have $7."
And I figured, fuck it. I do nothing good or positive, pretty much ever. And there's someone on a sidewalk, which I've been programmed to ignore, who is having a horrible, scary night. Or this is a scam and she's on drugs.
But fuck it.
My first thought was that I work at a TV station! That must be helpful somehow! But that's not really helpful at all. Pretty much ever.
I pulled out my wallet. All I had was $24. I handed it to her. "Okay. We're going to figure this out." I said. "I'm Beth."
She told me her name. She said thank you. And she hugged me.
Then I had lots of questions. Which cab company, where is your daughter, when is your husband released, where will you go, do you have to go back in your apartment?
And as it turned out, she needed to get to her apartment, which was basically across the street from where I was going. So together, we walked to my parking garage.
"You don't have like, a gun or anything? You're not going to rob me in my car, right?"
She took off her jacket and just kind of patted herself down, as I stumbled over my words, "Oh God, I'm so sorry. It's just..."
"No, no, no, Beth." She said. "You have to be careful. I understand."
So we got in my car, and at this point, I felt like an asshole going to a free party at the Clift.
"I'm thinking I should drive you."
Without missing a beat, she said, "Do you have a carseat?"
"You'll get pulled over. She needs to be in a carseat. It's a $400 ticket."
"Well," I said, "Do you have a carseat?"
"It's in my husband's car and I don't have his keys. Cabs don't need carseats but regular cars do."
This seemed weird to me. But I'd basically given her all of the cash I had. If it was a scam, she'd gotten all the cash she was going to get and a free ride. Then, this woman who's name she told me, but I feel like I should probably keep this relatively anonymous, made small talk.
"So, do you have kids?"
"Not yet, huh? You're young."
"Listen. I'm going to be worried about this all night. Why don't I just drive you. Or call the shelter and I can talk to someone."
I don't know what the hell I would have said or done.
"Hello, I'm Beth Spotswood and I have a blog, as you probably know, and I've been to rehab so this battered woman's deal is practically the same thing and anyway, how can I benevolently work my bourgeois magic here?"
She gave me her phone number and I gave her mine and she promised to call when she got to the shelter. I was more worried about giving her my phone number than anything else, but again, fuck it.
The whole ride, in addition to expressing anger and disgust at the horrible drivers whizzing past us, she talked about being a positive role model for her daughter and how her husband is an asshole and where she's from and where she used to work. And everything she mentioned, I felt like I had some personal connection to. She mentioned Dallas and I was like, "Oh! I have a very good friend in Dallas!" and she mentioned her old job as a credit analyst and I was all, "Oh! I have a very good friend who's a credit analyst!"
I was desperate for the universe to give me signs I was doing the right thing. But really, I wanted to physically put her and her daughter into this shelter. I wanted to see it happen.
Instead, I dropped her off where she told me too. And then I went and met my friends.
I heard nothing from this woman all night, and didn't really think about it until I was driving home hours later. I went home, put on my jammies, crawled in bed and started from reading aloud from the Monster of Florence in an Italian accent. Alone. Just for fun. And as I really embellished this part about a terrified witness, who was so freaked out at having to testify, he could only keep saying over and over, "we were only picnicking friends!" my phone beeped with a text.
"We made it! Thanks!"
So, I ask you, was it real? I have no idea. But I like to think so, because I can only muster random acts of kindness every decade or so. And I basically lived a very special episode of Designing Women last night, yet then put the whole thing on the internet. Karmically, I suspect, I'm breaking even...


Be_Devine said...

Wait, you never answered the question that was nagging everyone throughout the story. How was the fabulous party at the Clift?

You're not fooling anyone, Spotswood. You have a big heart and you know it.

Beth Spotswood said...

Oh, I'm so glad you asked. The publicist got the date wrong. So four of us stood in the lobby looking for a party that is next week. We went to the Ambassador and Rye instead.

And also, I'm evil. I promise you. Anyone seen that publicist today? I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

The world would be a much better place if more people took a chance on the truth to help people out. Best wishes to you, Beth. You might have saved that woman's life and that's all you need to know. That's huge!

Jerry Brown said...

If I may. Just read it. "Today you.... tomorrow me."

Also, you may have thought it hokey at the time, but men and women for others, Beth.

Beth Spotswood said...

@ Jerry Brown: That story is wonderful! Everyone click on "Today you... tomorrow me."

Mike Farrah said...

Give me the number and let the city help this woman out - plenty of services out there, food,health care, housing, especially for a victim of domestic violence.

Beth Spotswood said...

Mike Farrah, you are the most wonderful person alive. Please see your inbox.

Anonymous said...


Seana said...

Glad she made it. And Brian is right, you are not fooling anyone. This is a great story.

thesoniashow said...

This is just further proof that you are saving the world, one person at a time.

Melissa said...

Oh. My. God. I can't believe you fell for this! Actually I can because I did once, too. Now I see this woman all the time. She got $14 from me (all the cash I had - who carries cash?) once with the EXACT same story. Next time I saw her, she game me her same line (she had forgotten me already!) and when I ignored her she screamed "fuck you bitch!"

Anyway, good on you for trying to help.

AphotoAday said...

Beth, you are my hero!

Anonymous said...

Beth--The SAME woman approached me yesterday in the Castro, clutching a $10 bill that she said she wanted to "give"me in exchange for a ride to the battered women's shelter for her and her child. I was late for an appointment and couldnt help her...but if she REALLY needed a ride...why didnt she call "911" and save the money? my question is: after she gave me the money for the ride...then what?????