I heard it hit the ground as I was stepping out of my car. It was the penny I’d found a hundred miles earlier that had fallen out of my pocket. A woman at the Starbucks in Vail had dropped it and couldn’t be bothered in her sky high heels to pick it up. Apparently she had no fear of slipping on the ice outside in those shoes, but a misstep in line for espresso would have been too much. Her indifference was amusing.
I was still snickering about it when I retrieved the coin a second time. Penny in hand I stood up and pressed the unlock button on the door so I could get my coat from the back. I shut the door and went to open the hatch. It was locked. I went back to the driver’s side door and it was locked. All five doors locked with my keys, cell phone, iPad, laptop, purse, coat, and overnight bag trapped inside. Obviously I’d pressed the button the wrong way so now what?
My mind was racing as fast as the cars around me. I needed to call AAA but how was I going to do that. Inside the shopping mall I could probably get security to call for me but I’d have to leave the car unattended with the keys in plain sight screaming, “Break the window.”
So, I stood behind the car and waited for the first person to walk by. When they did my feeble, “excuse me” got a dirty look and they walked past. Then the next person that came by put a hand up signaling they didn’t want to be bothered. Three more folks came by and I couldn’t get anyone to stop until a guy pulled into the space next to me. He got out of his car and was forced to say hello because I was blocking him. I told him what’d happened and asked if he could help me call AAA.
“Sure,” he said nonchalantly. “This is a good excuse to be late for work.”
“Oh no,” I said. “I don’t want you to be late and get in trouble.”
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I don’t care.”
Desperate I borrowed his phone and made my distress call and the operator told me to wait in the nearest open space so the locksmith could spot me.
I found a corner and waited shivering like a swimmer in the Arctic. At least a hundred cars drove by and dozens of bundled up shoppers walked past pretending not to see me. Even the mall security patrol ignored me. After my fist two attempts to get their attention I gave up and watched them drive by four more times.
“Mam, I’ll have you in your car in no time,” he said. Show me where it is. I pointed, he got out of his truck, and reached for his tools but they weren’t there. I almost fainted.
“I’m so sorry Mam. I must have left them at the shop. I’ll go get them,” he said. “Wait here.”
Oh yeah right I thought. Wait here in the freezing cold. Thanks for offering me your coat. Thanks for letting me ride along in your warm truck. Thanks for showing up prepared.
I was dumbfounded. How could this be happening? Two hundred forty miles from home in the middle of winter I’ve locked myself out of my car and not even the roadside assistance folks are prepared to help me.
Thirty minutes passed. AAA came back and got me in my car. I drove to the nearest restaurant and ordered a bowl of soup. One spoonful at a time I thawed out but the cold faces that had passed me by for the last ninety minutes stung in my mind. Nobody cared. Nobody bothered. Like a penny dropped they left it for somebody else. Every person that walked by assumed someone else would or should help.
Warmed up by the soup my righteous indignation began to fade and I started to wonder if that penny had fallen out of my pocket for a reason. Maybe I needed to be stranded out in the cold to remember something that’s easy to forget—the power of ONE.
You see that’s all it would have taken to warm me up. One person to offer a spare coat that may have been in their car. Or a blanket or a cup of hot coffee or even just an encouraging word. But no—not one single person thought they had any help to offer or any obligation to try.
It was sad but tucked into my hotel room that night I had to admit I’m guilty of the same at times and I can do better. I have to do better because the world really can’t afford anyONE’s indifference. Leaving a penny behind is one thing but leaving people to always fend for themselves doesn’t make for a rich society it just makes it colder.