I'm a bit early. It's 9:15, office expects me at 10.
The best part of starting and ending the work day an hour later is avoiding the masses.
There's very little traffic in this Chevron. Just minutes ago it was a mad dash.
I roll the MR2, who's thirsty for some 89, and park it under pump 7.
The windshield is now squeegeed clean, I turn to the pump and hear a rumbling.
It's a white Hayabusa. Arguably the crown jewel of sportbikes. Only this one is tired, greasy, mistreated.
The owner is a portly guy, sunburnt, crusty looking.
He's asking a man at another pump, who's dressed as a nurse, if he can have a few bucks so he can make it to the VA hospital.
Come on man, that's the oldest story in the panhandler's book.
The nurse is suddenly deaf, hops into his new Hyundai, then drives off.
Now the biker sets his eyes on me, without even changing his tone.
"Hey, hey guy! Can I uh, can I get a few bucksh. I gotta, I gotta make it to the VA hoshpital. Gotta get a uh, a x-shray."
"Hmm, only have a card today," I say, swiping it at the pump.
"Uh, can I get some gas then, you think?"
Persistent, he's a pro.
"Come closer. Let's... let's get a look at you," I say to the pump.
He winces, hobbling. Not from a busted leg or foot, his entire body is failing him.
He props his battered Hayabusa against the pump across from me. The kickstand is broken. He curses at it, then walks around to me.
He's within choking distance now, but I shouldn't need to do that.
"Okay so... uh.. it's. It's gonna need 91 in it."
He's larger than me, but frail. Just standing in front of me takes him considerable effort. An unusual, pale sweat covers him, combined with an oddly sweet odor. Six days of reheated sweat, with some cheap deodorant sprayed on top.
There are sores on his face, around his chin and lips. His teeth are missing in a way that's too early for his age.
It's not heroin he's been using. Heroin doesn't give you sores like that. Sure, you might get some zits from rubbing a tingly nose, but not to that extent. You don't lose teeth shooting heroin, either.
He's also living on a Suzuki GSX1300R, telling by all the clothing strapped to it. A heroin addict would have sold that ages ago. It's too fast, they just want to relax. This guy's a speed freak.
"You stay here. I'll go put some money on your pump. Pump six, right?"
"Uh h- (cough) yeah. Six."
He tries to act normal. When he thinks I'm not looking, he puts a hand heavily on the pump, holding back something awful.
I put $10 of 91 to the pump, from the cashier. This limits him to that exact amount.
I walk back out. The rest of the lot has cleared. Finally, someone took this problem of a man away from them.
"You're all set," I smile.
He nods, grimacing. His hands aren't working. He's trying to open the port to fuel up, but it's fighting him. Everything is.
I lean back onto my MR2, earned through clean, normal living. It guzzles fuel quietly.
With him fumbling, and me filling 9 gallons, I get to relish in this man's pain a bit more.
And yet still, even years out in the clear, I know exactly how he feels. There's a tiny pull from my chest toward him.
I'm only a few suggestive sentences away from getting high as hell with this guy.
"So what did you say the VA hospital was doing on you?"
"Ah..." he clears his phlegmy throat, rubbing his head.
"Hmm. You know you should clean that bike up. Trade it to some kid for a little 250. Pocket a couple grand," I say, plainly. "That'll keep you high for a couple months if you play it right."
He pauses, his back to me. A freezing wind trembles through him, from his feet to his fingers.
The cover is blown. He's thinking of running, and knows he can't. He's fucked.
The man turns to me, his lips are tight. The sores glisten in the sun. He could lie to me, but his eyes falter.
He knows I'm right. He hates it. Something inside him wants it to end.
Then the heavy sportbike collapses.
I glance around, no one's helping. So I lean in and pull the bike up with him.
"Hang on, man. Hang on. I'm on your side," I say.
"No one is, no one left. Nobody." His nostrils flare in some oxygen. Breathing is difficult.
"I know you're lying about the hospital. You're going to roll to the next gas station, and beg a bit more until you get ten, twenty bucks. Then you're good until tonight. But then the problem starts all over again, only now you're a day closer to death."
"... and... and tomorrow's gonna be.... worsh..." he tells the ground.
"That's right. You know it, and I know it. Look." I show him my arms.
They're strong, but he notices tiny scars where veins should be.
A noticeable wave of relief washes over him. He's not going to jail, yet.
"Here. Take this twenty. Get high. And during that high, clean this bike. Put it on craigslist for cheap. You need the money, man. Say you'll trade down to a little scooter bike plus some cash, who gives a shit. You need the money."
"Fuck ya I do."
"Right. Then, you have time to think. You can get to a quick rehab spot. A free place. It's not so bad on meth. You sleep through most of it."
"How... yeah, yeah okay. Fuck that sounds like a good idea."
"Get high, first. Then it's easier. Now you're out, you got like $1300 on you. Take a shower and get a gig over there," I thumb to the Walmart across the lot.
"No shit, I could do it. F-fuck i--" then he hacks from deep within his lungs, leaning against the pump.
"Good. Now I know the odds. But I have faith in you, today. Do it man. Just get it the fuck over with."
"Okay," he breathes deeply, "Okay. All right. Okay..." his head bobs up and down, more convinced with each nod.
He heaves a leg painfully over the dusty superbike, and coaxes it off to the corner. He waves at me, before pulling away. I smile back, and get into the MR2.
He did me a favor today. Although I still get hot/cold flashes, and random pain all over, I'll never go back to that life. He was a strong reminder of what to fear. The part of me that needs to stay buried forever.