Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After a lovely lunch with Ms. Emily Nelson, I head back towards I-380 with a stomach full of French onion soup and a paper bag full of half a hot Panini I couldn’t eat. Just as I’m about to hit the on ramp, I see a guy sitting slumped on a pack and holding a cardboard sign that reads:
PLEASE HELP. FOOD OR BLANKETS. WILL WORK
I spin the wheel and make an abrupt left to avoid the ramp, passing under a bridge and pointing back towards the city. I pull into the first parking lot I can find, and I head back on foot after slipping on my jacket. It’s in the 20’s outside.
I walk under the bridge and come up next to the guy, who’s still sitting slumped on his pack. “Hey man,” I say as I kneel down next to him.
He looks up, surprised. “Hey.”
“What’s your name?”
“I’m Dave. I know it’s not much, but I’ve got half a sandwich here if you want it. It’s still kind of hot.”
He takes the bag with both hands. “Thanks, dude.”
He’s bundled up, but the wind is slicing through my thin jacket. “It’s cold out here, man…you know where you’re gonna sleep tonight?”
He shrugs as he unwraps the food. “I’ll probably go back to the mission. But I hate that place, man.”
He shrugs again. “But, you do what you gotta do, I guess. I’m gonna see if something happens.”
“Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Nah, man. But thank you for this.” He holds up the sandwich.
“Word. No problem dude. Good luck to you, ok?”
I remain crouched on the ground for another moment as our hands come together. When he lets go, I stand and look over my shoulder at the traffic. A lady in a minivan is watching me through the glass. In her gaze, I see some incomprehensible blend of gratitude, sadness, surprise, and something else I cannot explain. Our eyes lock for a moment, and something for which I still have no words is communicated. Then the light turns green, the car behind her honks, and she drives away.