A hairy arm, plaid flannel sleeve rolled up, extended out of the pickup window and held high a fist with middle finger raised. A week before Christmas, at the end of the tumultuous year 2020, I was headed for the dump. Driving where four lane transitions to two, loud rumbling engine acceleration caught my attention. There he is, up ahead of me in the right lane, a big pickup. Speeding up he slid in front of a small car. That’s when I spotted his obscene gesture. What, I wondered, did that other driver do to earn that reaction? Drawing close behind the little car, I spotted the offense. This little old lady had made the mistake of sporting a small presidential campaign sticker in her back window. I guessed giving her the finger was a victory for him.
Witnessing this attack on humanity by a bearded young man in a big pickup caused me to reflect on his place in our society and world. I thought about the large number of bearded young men I had lately witnessed in televised protests, a few packing assault rifles. Some, recently, shouted obscenities at me and others for standing in silent support of Black Lives Matter. I wondered, has this whole generation been lost? But then I recalled, my own son is bearded and drives a noisy, old jeep . . . And he’s currently using his vocational skills to put together a virtual Christmas Eve service for his church . . .
That was Friday. Today, Monday, my wife and I pulled into a long line outside Burger King. I immediately took notice of the young man ahead of us in the row. He was driving an old pickup, paint peeling off and rusty jagged holes in its fenders. Seeing him watching us in his mirror, I wondered if he was another of these young ruffians.
Behind us, a brand new, red Jeep slipped into line. In my mirror I saw another young man driving. I noted huge tires, winch, fancy mirrors, decals, all the options. Lots of money for that one, I thought. I wonder what kind of a job he has? I never had money to buy something like that when I was his age. I don’t have money to buy something like that even at age 68.
A long wait; we were one car back now. The young driver in the rusty pickup carried on an extended conversation with the window person whose hand held the outstretched plastic tub awaiting payment. Is he hassling that poor cashier? Finally, he put his credit card in the tub, received his food and drove away. Our turn. The twenty-something man in the window, masked, said, “Your meal has already been paid for. The fellow ahead of you took care of your bill.”
He repeated. Bill paid. Young man in the pickup truck. $17.84.
“Well, can I pay for the people behind me?”
“Yes, if you want to.”
“Yes, please, let me pay for their bill.” His bill. I remembered; it was the young fellow in the expensive Jeep. I handed the cashier my credit card and he rang it up.
“How much was it?”
“Just over three bucks.”
“Well, can I pay for the next car too?”
“How much is that one?”
“That one is $24.95.”
“Okay, thanks, that will be just fine.”
Bill paid. Food delivered. Credit card returned. Ready to coast away, I looked my young fellow in the eye and offered, “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas and God bless you,” he replied.
“And God bless you too,” I said to one of my new young friends at Burger King.
Five young men just before Christmas in 2020. Pandemic, political strife, racism . . . So much trouble all around. Five young men and an old guy. Maybe there’s still hope.
This essay was awarded 2nd place out of 350 entrants in the annual Jackpine Writers’ Bloc contest for Creative Non-Fiction in 2021. It was published in their Reclaiming Life – Talking Stick 30 book.