I was standing in line in a coffee shop, waiting to place my order. I was third in line, the end in sight.
A voice came in my ear.
“Thanks, Man. It was kind of you.”
I turned, cautious and obviously puzzled. A clean-shaven and well dressed middle-aged man was not exactly in line behind me, but more to my shoulder.
“I appreciate the help.”
I didn’t feel overly anxious in the midst of a well-peopled coffee shop, but I was glad he didn’t look unhinged. I was wondering what obvious response to make: “Pardon me?” “I think you’re mistaken.” “Can I help you?” But then he spoke quickly.
“You helped me out back there.” He pointed to the street. “Up on the corner. You gave me money.”
I had had no such encounter, and was concerned that any sort of response might elicit offence. Plus, his stability now came into question.
“Wasn’t that you?”
“Sorry. You are mistaken.”
“Looks like you.”
“Then he’s a lucky fellow, whoever he is.”
This did get a laugh. Then, though I might have been expecting many things, I did not anticipate what he did next. He took out a gift card for the Coffee Shop we were standing in.
“Hey, can you give me $5 for this. A lady gave it to me earlier. It’s real.” We both moved forward as the line moved. “I don’t need coffee, but I need strings for my guitar. That’s how I make money on the street.”
As soon as he said this, I remembered someone playing a guitar across the street I had been on. There was no way I could tell if this fellow was him – but what are the odds?
“I can’t play without strings.”
I did not know at the time, nor do I know now, if this was a well-honed and practised routine to get some money. But it was only $5, I’d soon know if the card was real, and if it was a fraud I figured he’s earned $5.
So I gave him the $5.
“Thanks, Man. I swear it’s real. I play along here all the time. I can’t risk my reputation.”
A couple of minutes later I made my purchase. I used the card for part of it.
It was real.