The man is on a cell phone, clearly upset. Almost - theatrically upset. I'm walking down Market Street and he is half a stride behind me. It's Friday night, and the street is crowded.
Shit! he says, clapping the phone shut.
He's caught up to me, and catches my eye. I'm sorry about that, he says. I didn't mean to...it's just...
He throws his arms in the air. I got carjacked today, he says. My family was carjacked. At the point of a gun.
I stop. I'm sorry to hear that, I tell him. Is everyone okay?
From the moment I hear him on the cell phone, I'm wary. No reason in particular, nothing I can point to - I keep looking for the director, the script girl. He wears a long herringbone coat, leather gloves. A suit. It looks like a costume.
He tells me a long, disjointed story. Pulls out a paper with notes taken on it. He says he has the police report. Details to make it real. The place: just south of here on 101. Their destination: Eureka. They planned to make Eureka tonight. The car was recovered. He's not a transient. You gotta trust me, he says. His wife and kids are waiting by the side of the road. He needs to buy a gas can, gas.
That's when it clicks into place. Gas can. An old friend of mine ran a variation of this very scam some twenty plus years ago. It was a strange and short period for him. He wore a suit and carried a gas can. A story about breaking down just outside of town. Wife and kids waiting.
The carjacking is a thrilling new twist. Violence! Drama!
I stop him there. I don't have anything for him, I say. I'm sorry.
What I really want to say is: how's this working out for you? What I want to say is: I'm sorry you're going to have to go through the whole show again for someone else. It's easier to just ask for cash up front.
What I want to know is: am I getting harder? Am I losing my ability to simply trust?
I'm out with a friend and a woman appears behind us. Help out a woman with a dollar, will you? she asks. We don't have a thing, we say.
Oh, come on, she says. Like we're not playing the game right. Like we didn't just step out of a cab. Like we owe her something, and if we can't just own up say No, without the excuse, we have to pay up.
And I want to know how long I can hold onto my trusting self in this place and this time. If I can look past the scams, the sense of entitlement.
If I can be brave enough to see into a person on the street, if I can learn to not look away, but look in. Look all the way in. And find the person inside who is worth the chance.