Making new ‘friends’ at the store

By Pat Haley - Contributing columnist

“Please shop wisely. Stuff is expensive,” I reminded my wife, Brenda, as we crossed the parking lot toward the large grocery store in Wilmington. Brenda stared at me for a few seconds, like a woman looking at her child who had said a naughty word.

I decided to stay outside and sit in a lawn chair.

There are times I enjoy people-watching. Yesterday was one of those times.

The people were scurrying about, and most of them were walking past my chair on the west side of the store.

An SUV pulled up to the curb. A woman was driving, and a man, wearing a pair of shorts pulled up around his belly, black socks, his thinning hair uncombed, was having difficulty exiting the vehicle.

The man clambered out, and as he did, he began screaming at the woman driver, delivering a torrent of profanity not normally heard beyond the docks of New York. I could hear him mumbling expletives as he walked through the front doors of the store.

An amiable lady walked by, carrying a small sack of groceries and a plastic bag of ice.

“I be you’re waiting for your wife,” she said pleasantly.

“Yes, I am,” I replied.

The lady continued walking and said she wished her husband were still alive. She misses him so. “He has been gone twenty years,” she said.

She took a few steps further before coming back to where I was sitting.

“We were married for fifty-one years,” she said. She wanted to talk more about her husband, but I was a stranger, and her ice was melting.

As the woman left, a cab pulled up near another woman standing with two full grocery bags in a cart. The cab driver slipped out from behind the wheel and walked over to the lady. The driver hoisted the bags and placed them in the back.

Four more times, the same ritual happened. The cabs pulled up. The drivers got out and helped customers with their groceries. It felt good seeing the Midwestern values and small-town manners.

A young boy — about 10 years of age — walked with his mother toward the front door, holding a small puppy. I heard his mom tell him he couldn’t take the dog inside. The boy walked over by me and found one of the motorized carts provided for handicapped patrons, sitting unattended.

To his surprise, the key was in the ignition and soon his hand was on the key.

At first, the cart barely moved. The boy then jerked the cart around and headed toward the end of the sidewalk, the puppy’s ears flopping in the wind.

He rode back and forth, each time gaining speed, until finally his mother came out of the store. She asked what he was doing.

“Nothing, Mom. Just waiting for you,” he said. We both smiled.

Next to appear was a woman and her teenage daughter. “I wish you wouldn’t wear your shorts so tight,” I heard her mother say.

“Oh, Mom!” She rolled her eyes and hurried into the store.

As they walked inside, a big man walked outside, carrying two small bags, one in each hand. I wasn’t paying much attention, but I heard him say to himself, “I don’t have any money for the cab. I spent it all on groceries.”

As I looked closer, I saw it was the same man who had cursed at the woman in the SUV 30 minutes earlier. He said again, “I can’t pay for the cab,” a little louder for me to hear.

I told him I seldom carry cash anymore. “You can go inside the store and use the ATM to get him some money,” he said. He was a bully and was trying to intimidate me.

I had an idea. I told the obnoxious man to wait a minute. I walked to the ATM and got a few dollars. When I returned, the man held out his hand. I told him I would pay the driver for his ride.

“He wants to go to Newport, Kentucky,” I whispered to the driver. The driver nodded, and then he winked, and with that, they were off.

“Did you enjoy yourself while I shopped?” Brenda asked.

“More than you will ever know,” I said. I then told her about the man and the cab. She was drinking a Mountain Dew, which she spewed out when I told her what had just occurred.

“Did you really send him to Newport?” Brenda asked.

“Probably not. The driver knew him. But the way he was swearing when he entered the cab, the driver may have been tempted.”

Not missing a beat, she said, “I need to stop at Wal-Mart. Do you want to go in with me?”

“Sure. I always like to expand my circle of friends. Like someone once said, “I’m waiting for the day that Wal-Mart puts a bar in their stores. That’ll take people-watching to a whole new level.”

Indeed it would.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County native and former county commissioner and sheriff.

His book, “Around the Fire: Stories from Here and There” — comprised of his nonfiction stories in the News Journal through the years — is available through the Clinton County History Center in Wilmington, or you can reach Pat directly at 937-205-7844 or via email at [email protected] to purchase a copy.

By Pat Haley

Contributing columnist