Friends and strangers

Stress makes me sick –physically sick. During a very stressful time last year, I developed pneumonia. This past February, I had a month-long flu. So, it should be no surprise that around the time of my graduation from my master’s program I was stricken with a severe respiratory infection. I’d lost my keys at a Saturday-night graduation celebration that went on until the wee hours of the morning. I’d been drinking, which probably exacerbated my anxiety. My keys disappeared around 3 a.m. I’d been separated from my friends, so I was all alone in a somewhat bad neighborhood without enough money for a cab or a locksmith.

I collapsed in tears on the street, and a random man I’d never seen before offered me a place to stay. He called a female friend of his, who came over and she and he somehow convinced me to enter a cab with them to go to this guy’s apartment and sleep on his couch.

They were both incredibly kind, and had both obviously been in similar dire situations and wanted to help a stranger out. If either of them were criminals, they were taking the night off. I fell asleep fast, and I was safe. Had it not been for them, I would have slept on the street.

In the morning, I used the man’s phone book to call a locksmith. I skipped over the more suspicious-looking locksmith ads, and called one with an address close to where I lived. I made an appointment for 2 p.m., and the operator told me that the locksmith would call me when he was on his way.

The locksmith told me that it would cost $39 to open my door. I had $3. I have pets, and was worried about them being hungry. I did not want to break a window because I wouldn’t be able to repair it and I would not feel safe in an apartment with a broken window. I figured if he took my check-card number, they could try to charge me again in a couple of days after I had been paid. Also, once he opened my door, what was he going to do if I didn’t pay him on the spot? Lock the door again?

The locksmith arrived on time and in an unmarked car. He opened my door in less than a minute, then handed me a bill for $169. I was appalled. He kept saying that he had told me twice that it would be $39 for the service call and at least $115 to unlock the door. I was exhausted and frazzled and began to question my sanity and my memory. Did he really tell me that?

Once he realized that I didn’t have the money, he became very antagonistic and said he would call the police. I have twice called the police in my life while being victimized, and both times I have been blown off and even mocked. If I’d had even $39, I would have let him call, but as I didn’t have even that much, I didn’t think the police would side with me. I just wanted him to leave. He told me that he wouldn’t leave until he was paid.

I called a friend and begged her to pay him. I didn’t know what else to do. I am fortunate to have friends with more money than I have.
I found out later that it was all a big scam, which made me feel even more worthless than I already felt at that point.

My landlady lost my apartment key, so I was keyless for a while. I found my spare car keys, but was afraid to leave for extended periods due to leaving my apartment unlocked. I didn’t have keys for four days.

The following Wednesday, I woke up with a very sore throat. I was coughing up and choking on chunky, stringy, green phlegm and blood. I was exhausted and could barely breathe. My paycheck was late and I had overdrawn my bank account. Since my graduation was recent, I was still eligible to use my one free appointment at the campus health center. I drove out there to see a doctor.

Since I had negative money in my bank account. I wasn’t able to pay for parking. I’d risked it before and gotten away with it, so I took a chance and parked because I didn’t have time to park far away and walk. Also, I wasn’t going to be long. Of course I got a parking ticket, but I knew that was a risk.
The doctor told me “It’s just viral, you’ll just have to wait it out.” Fine.

I removed the ticket from my car and started on the way home. I was about halfway home when my car began to make odd groaning noises. After a minute or so, it was apparent that my car was no longer able to accelerate. I put on my hazard lights and veered off the next exit. I was fortunate in that there was little traffic, and the traffic light at the end of the downhill exit was green. I was able to coast on through. My car stopped completely in the parking lot of a Public Storage. I took up three parking spaces.

I sat in the car to evaluate my situation. I had overdrawn my bank account (due to the unexpected late paycheck), and maxed out my credit card. I then discovered that my cell phone had been cut off due to nonpayment. I don’t have AAA. I had approximately $1.50 in cash. I was far from home. My car was parked illegally. I was coughing up blood and I had no voice.

After a few minutes of staring into nothing while trying to process my surroundings, I walked into the Public Storage and asked the young woman there if I could use their telephone. I called my car insurance company and asked about roadside assistance. The woman I spoke to took my policy number and informed me that I was eligible to get up to $50 assistance for towing. She said that any charges in excess of $50 would have to be paid on the spot. I had no resources, so I could not afford anything more than $50. She put me on hold to consult with various local towing establishments. Most places agreed to tow me for about $100, which wasn’t going to happen. My student bus pass was still active, so I was free to go home, but I did not want to have my car impounded, which was sure to happen if I abandoned it. I stayed on the phone a while, and the woman at the insurance company called several places. No one would tow me for $50. I began sobbing hysterically, and I was still coughing up green phlegm and blood. I was weak, in pain, and shaking. I got off the phone with the insurance company. I was thankful that the Public Storage employee was kind and let me stay indoors. She even let me accept phone calls there.

The tow truck driver was also kind, a very friendly young man. He put my car straight into my home parking space at home, where it still sits, completely useless. He thinks it’s a fuel pump damaged by driving with close to no gas for an extended period.

The woman from the insurance company called me back to say that she found someone who would tow me home for $70. That was still too much. She put me on hold. Some anonymous employee at my insurance company donated $20 to my cause, and I was able to get a tow truck home.

When my paycheck finally came through, I was able to pay my phone bill, so hopefully if I find myself in a similar situation again I will at least be able to call someone for help. As a result of my late paycheck, I incurred three overdraft fees on my account due to automated bill payments. In addition to this, I incurred a fourth overdraft fee due to being in overdraft for “an extended period.” My late paycheck cost me $140, which is a lot of money when you have none.

Despite my horrible luck, I have found that there are people out there who are truly kind and decent.


1 Comment

Filed under Depression, Obstacles

One response to “Friends and strangers

  1. Pingback: But how are you getting by? « Modern Poverty

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