What Would You Do?

If you're asked by a stranger for gas money while at the pump in the middle of nowhere, what would your response be?


I distinctly remember my denial of the price of gas rising over three dollars per gallon years ago.  I stopped the pump when my cost reached exactly $39.99 because I refused to pay over $40 to fill my tank.  Oh, those were the days!

This past Friday, I drove to a friend’s house in upstate New York for a girl’s night at her place, over a three hour drive for me.  As I knew gas was cheaper just about any place outside of Connecticut, I planned on filling up in Massachusetts.  Once on the Mass Turnpike, the service areas and exits are about 20 miles apart with a whole lot of trees in-between.  I pulled into a service area complete with McDonald’s, restrooms and gas pumps, everything a person could need all in one place. 

As I started to remove my gas cap, I was taken aback by a woman who came around the back of my car and started talking to me.  She said she needed money for gas so she could get home to Saratoga.  She was only asking people for a couple of dollars as she didn’t feel comfortable asking for more.  My initial reaction was of suspicion.  I normally don’t contribute to beggars. 

The woman looked to be in her thirties or forties, wearing a long dress and her red hair in two long braids.  I did not detect a smell of alcohol or body odor.  I decided to give her a couple of bucks, if no reason other than to get rid of her.  I only had one single in my wallet.  Amazingly enough, the rest of the bills were $10 and higher; obviously my husband and daughter hadn’t used my wallet as an ATM recently.  I gave the woman the one single I had and watched as she approached others at the pumps.  The man behind me with the New Jersey plates pulled out a wad of bills and peeled something off for her, but I didn’t see the amount.  She approached others at the pump, but I couldn’t hear or see their responses. 

As my tank filled, I continued to watch the woman while she made the rounds.  She returned to her car which was at the pump island opposite me and just stood there looking out at the people pumping gas; apparently there wasn’t enough to fill her tank and she needed new candidates to approach.  I wondered if this was a scam, but with her car sitting there, it was looking more legitimate.  

I thought of the TV show What Would You Do?  Pretty sure that John Quinones wouldn’t bring a camera crew this far away from civilization, I didn’t look too hard for hidden cameras or mic packs.  I felt I had to do more.  I pulled my van up out of the way, got out and walked up to the woman standing beside her car, handing her a ten dollar bill.  Once I got up closer to her car, I saw a man asleep in the passenger seat and a baby in a car seat in back. 

I began to doubt my gift as I drove away.  Why wasn’t the man doing anything? Why would he leave his wife to beg for gas money?  Was he really asleep or was this part of a scam?  I’ll never know for sure.  The man and the baby were African American and I wondered if the woman was acting on the belief that their chances were better at soliciting funds if the clean-cut, red-headed white woman was the solicitor. 

Having watched a similar scenario on the TV show where people of different genders, races and styles of dress ask for gas money, the producers asked if the difference in people’s contributions were due to race.  Race wasn’t the issue with me, but gender and age are definite considerations; if an African American or Hispanic woman approached me in a similar manner, I would have felt the same way.  I’d probably also feel more inclined to help an elderly person.  It was a matter of a woman (me) feeling safe with a stranger and fairly certain that I wasn’t being taken advantage of.  Broad daylight with others around helped the stranger’s predicament.

I realize that begging for gas money at the pump probably happens more often than I know, but this was my first experience.  Would I do it again?  Yeah, probably.  I don’t have a lot of extra money floating around, but I did have enough fuel in my car to get where I was going. 

So I have to ask my readers: What would you do?

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Jay September 14, 2012 at 12:42 PM
This is a great story. I agree that giving something seemed to be the right thing to do and wonder how many are now influenced by a TV show to stir the human conscience to become engaged in humanity.
Cindy Eilenberger September 15, 2012 at 02:45 PM
I would have offered the couple of dollars not in cash but would have let her pull up to the pump and I'd put the gas in her car and then paid for it myself. If she was legit she would have had no problem with that.
Sharon Stegall September 16, 2012 at 11:34 AM
I like that suggestion Cindy. I wish I'd thought of it at the time!
gail mcintyre September 20, 2012 at 01:52 AM
That sounds like a very good way to handle the situation. Seems like most everyone would be willing to part with 1 or 2$. Which could add up very quickly especially with being in a hurry and not waiting to see what the "beggar" does with the money.


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