By Cheri Rae
A pleasant-looking young man stood on the old front porch and knocked at the screen door. He introduced himself and I braced for the come-on. Typically, it’s someone from Los Angeles trying to sell magazine subscriptions; someone collecting money for an environmental cause playing the guilt card by showing me the pledges of support my neighbors have made; or even someone with one of those overly complicated, cockamamie stories claiming to need money for gas to get to some faraway destination.
This time it was different.
He began his story: “My name is Ben and I live a few blocks from here, where there is street cleaning. I need to park my car someplace where it won’t get towed while I visit my parents in Portland for a couple of weeks. You guys don’t have street cleaning here, so I was thinking it would work out.”
“Okay,” I replied, wondering what the gimmick was. “When do you leave?”
“My plane leaves in two hours,” he said sheepishly.
Before I could think, my critical parent voice responded: “And you just now thought about this?”
“Well, yes. It costs too much to leave the car at the airport, so I want to leave it here and I was just hoping that it would be okay with you if I put it here while I’m gone…” His voice trailed off, his eyes pleaded.
My heart softened; my nice mommy self jumped in and argued with my cynical self: He’s just a kid trying to be responsible and work things out. Why not help him? He could be one of your kids one day.
“You’re in luck,” I said, and showed him a place to park on the long parkway where it would have the least impact on the neighborhood. We would be the only residents affected, since there’s a vacation rental across the street with people coming and going all the time, and next door to that one, a neighbor who was off on vacation and never parks there anyway. This one car wouldn’t really make much difference, and no one would even notice, much less call it in for being there too long.
A few minutes later he parked the car; it sat there undisturbed, just getting dirtier day after day. And then one afternoon, I noticed it was gone. Ben must have returned home, I thought. Hoping he and his family had a nice visit, I pondered our own fast-approaching empty-nest syndrome and what it must be like for his parents to have him back home for awhile, and then to say good-bye again.
A couple days later, I opened the front door, and noticed a small envelope tucked in by the beveled glass. It was a Starbucks card with a handwritten note, “ Thank you for letting me park my car outside your house! Hope you enjoy Starbucks—Ben.”
I’ve always taught my kids to do more than is expected, and to express their appreciation. Obviously Ben’s parents taught him the same thing—a nice young man just making his way in life, in this Santa Barbara neighborhood, his home away from home, right where he belongs.