On my way to deliver a car in Oakland, CA, I passed through Reno, NV. I was trying to decide whether to go to the casinos and do a little bit of gambling. After 14 hours of driving, I definitely needed a rest and to really stretch my legs.
I pulled into a gas station with a mini-mart attached. I tried using a credit card at the pump, but the pump was not cooperating. So I knew this meant I would have to go into the store and pay. On my way inside, I saw a man rolling towards me in a wheelchair. His legs ended at the knee, just like Lt. Dan in FORREST GUMP, but he had blood smeared all over the stumps. It was a gory sight, and I tried to look away.
"Hey Mister, can you help a guy out?"
"Sorry," I said.
"No, no, don't be sorry, just dig down deep and help me out. Help out
old Wheelchair Freddie."
Normally I try to give people in need a little something, even though I don't have much myself. But I was in a bad mood, I had a headache, and I just couldn't look at those bloody stumps. "Sorry man."
He wheeled himself quickly into my path. "Hey man, I'm a veteran. Don't you want to help
out a vet in need?"
"It's not like that."
"It's exactly like that. What did I ever do to you to deserve this?"
"I'm paying with credit cards, I don't have cash." Which was true, and reminded me that I needed to find an ATM machine after I got gas.
"Wheelchair Freddie is reaching out to you. I'm reaching out to you, man! Don't let me down, please, not again, I don't think I could bear it." He looked like he was about to cry. But I seriously didn't have any cash.
"I'm sorry, Wheelchair Freddie."
"Oh, man. I can't believe this. Wheelchair Freddie is hungry, can't you just feed a guy? I fought for your freedom in some other country."
"And I appreciate it. I admire you and respect you and salute you."
"Sure, but you can't dig around in your stingy pockets and find something for good
old Wheelchair Freddie."
I shrugged and kept on walking, feeling a bit guilty. I went in and prepaid on my credit card, then went to the bathroom. I went out to my car and pumped it full of gas. Then I got back into the car and noticed the envelope sitting on top of my paperwork in the passenger seat. Often times I collect change in an envelope on my road trips so it doesn't slide out of pockets and get lost in the seat cushions. I picked it up and found it quite hefty, containing several dollars worth at least.
Quickly, I hopped out of the car and hurried back towards the front of the store carrying the envelope. But he was gone. As I walked back to the car, I saw something on the side of the building. It was dark, but I could just make out a wheelchair there. As I got nearer, I could see he had his back to me, but was vigorously rubbing his knees.
"Hey Wheelchair Freddie," I said with a smile. "Look, I found a bunch of change, maybe five dollars worth. Hope that will help."
Wheelchair Freddie turned around quickly, and even in the shadows I could clearly see a tube of Vampire's Blood on his lap. His hands were covered in it, as he was putting a fresh coat on the end of his stumps. I remembered using Vampire's Blood (fake blood) when I was a kid to accentuate my Halloween costume. "Uh-oh, looks like you caught Wheelchair Freddie in the act."
I fumbled as I said, "Uh, no, I, here's the, I mean just--"
"It's cool, old Wheelchair Freddie just has to do what a man has to do to get a little money. I find that people respond to blood, it helps empty out their pockets a bit. Know what I mean?"
I nodded blankly. He reached out and grabbed the envelope. "I can still keep the money, right?"
"I mean I am Wheelchair Freddie, I am crippled and in a wheelchair, I need money to eat just like a man with legs does."
"What are you trying to say? You don't think I deserve it?"
"No, you deserve it. I want you to have it."
"Wheelchair Freddie fought for you in the Korean War, and don't you forget it." He looked to be about 40, and I was doing the math in my head about how old he would have been during the Korean War. He pointed his finger at me. "Wheelchair Freddie won't forget this, if you ever need a favor, just look me up. I'm usually right here."
Good to know for future reference that if I ever need help in Reno, Wheelchair Freddie will be there for me, probably with a fresh coat of Vampire's Blood. As I was driving slowly away, I saw him lifting himself using his arms, and then his full legs miraculously appeared from under him. They were somehow folded underneath. He hopped up and began to push his wheelchair away in front of him, as I stared at him with my jaw dropped down into my lap.