Who Were Those Old People?

Last week I taught a class from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. that involved my going west across the river. After sticking around for conversation and refreshments, it was 8:30 p.m. when I headed home. Dark. Cold.

I chose not to fight the maze of orange wooden blockades, orange barrels, and orange traffic cones driving back across the Rio Grande River on I-40. Instead, I returned home the rectangular way. North on Coors, east on Montano, south on 4th, and west on Griegos.

The stretch of Griegos that I drove along wasn’t depicted in the series Breaking Bad, at least I don’t think. But it was the darkest stretch of my drive home by far. The houses along Griegos are old but well-maintained, with elm trees and fences and court yards around them. There are no dead crows hanging from exposed vigas, but nor are there any signs that say, “Walk Right Up To The Front Door And Knock.”

An elderly fellow one time told me that when he was growing up in New Mexico, a person needed to be careful about approaching a house.  He liked the practice of calling out “Hello, the house!” He’d seen people who jumped down from their wagon or who exited their car too quickly get shot before they made it to the front door. Homeowners had the right to shoot you in times past, and some practices die hard. He advised me to be careful when walking up to a house. The least the owners might do is sic their pit bulls on me.

So, I’m driving along Griegos, which is a two-lane street, speed limit 35 or so, when I see amber taillights blinking on the right-hand side of the road ahead. As I then drove by the car, the driver’s door opened, and the interior lights revealed a young lady in jeans and a jacket doing her best to flag me down.

Whoever she was, she too did not feel comfortable walking up to one of the front doors on Griegos in the hopes of help. I pulled to a stop. It was so dark that I could hardly see the outline of her car behind mine. But suddenly she opened my door and asked if I had jumper cables. Her car had died. She hadn’t run out of gas; she had a quarter of a tank. She didn’t need gas. She needed a jump.

My jumper cables were in my older car, and so I had to go home and fetch them. When I arrived at home, I told my wife Cheri that the girl needed help. Cheri, then,  decided that she was coming with me, and I knew why. If it was an ambush and people were waiting to knock me in the head and steal my money and jumper cables, somehow her presence would prevent them from doing so. I didn’t know exactly how Cheri was going to protect me from such treatment, but I appreciated the company.

The young lady knew how to jump a battery. I hardly had the hood up before she had all the terminals connected. But after several tries, it was clear that a jump wasn’t going to help. What to do?

We asked if we could give her a ride home. No, she lived in the South Valley. She didn’t want us to have to drive that far. Her cellphone was dead, so she asked if she could borrow mine to phone her dad. I don’t always remember to carry a cellphone – Cheri never does – but I found it in a pocket and gave it to her.

This is what she told her father: “The car died, and this old couple picked me up. Can you come get me at the Walgreen’s at Rio Grande and Central?”

He could, and so we were off to Walgreen’s. Cheri and I were concerned, though. We thought maybe that the young lady was on drugs because she mentioned this “old couple” who had picked her up. We were the only ones in the car and had no idea who she was talking about.

Walgreen’s was more than five minutes away. We talked to her as we drove along, partly in an effort to determine if her mind was unimpaired. She had graduated from Del Norte High School back when it still looked like a high school. Now it looks like an office building. She was right about that.

She told us that she had recently given birth to a baby. In fact, the reason she was out that night was to meet the father and get her child support, which she had done. She said nothing else and did nothing else that made us think she was on drugs. Still, she had told her father that she had been picked up by an “old couple.”

Further evidence that she wasn’t on drugs was that when we got to Walgreen’s, she agreed to wait in the car with us rather than go inside to wait. I’ve been in that Walgreen’s late at night. It’s spooky even without the Halloween decorations. We waited ten minutes in the parking lot, then her father came driving up. She said, “Thank you,” jumped out the backseat, and was gone.

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving. Cheri and I don’t have many adventures, and so we’re thankful that we had at least this one. Her car was gone the next day. I guess someone in her family got it running. And she was a nice young lady to talk with, even though we still can’t figure out who the “old couple” was. My suspicion is that she’s like the young character played by Haley Joel Osment in the movie The Sixth Sense. He said, “I see dead people.” Maybe she’s sees old people that we don’t. We’ll never know.


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