The red light is notoriously long at Mills and Colonial in Winter Park, Florida. So long, you might bring War and Peace to read and, if you had to travel that road every day, might finish by the end of the week. Maybe because of the long wait, there is a group of people who regularly walk through the paused traffic to ask for money.
One man drags his right foot behind him as he moves from car to car, hoping someone raises their head to acknowledge him; rolls down their window. He’s a short Asian man in his thirties, head down, unkempt hair. On this day, I sit in the passenger seat, watching him hobble along. I look over at my wife, and she is feeling the same heartbreak as me. I can see it on her face. If he was near my window, I would give him all my money, the keys to my house, my 401k.
As I said, the light is long. But today it’s untenably long. Like, let’s-make-a-turkey-dinner long. So, I’ve watched this poor man walk up, then back down, the street several times, painstakingly, heartbreakingly. Taking a dollar here, a few cents there, and finally disappearing around the corner. My wife and I, who are both jaded in our own special ways, discuss how our hearts melted at seeing such humanity. I take a deep breath, gathering myself, questioning my life choices. Then I sit back, staring at the red light, but no longer thinking about the light. Then I see him again. He and two of the others that were working the cars. They’re smiling, heads up, and chatting with one another loudly as they speed past the still unmoving traffic on bicycles.
Which require working legs, feet, and ankles to a fairly high degree.
My jaw stiffens and I curse, pointing them out to my wife who’s already seen them, and is doing some cursing of her own. We’re speechless for a moment after that, and then we raise our voices again, ranting and flailing our limbs. I feel my wallet in the butt of my pants, and think I should apologize to it for almost handing it over to that charlatan. I make fists, squirm in my seat, point at the spot I first saw him cycling along, enumerating the ways in which I disbelieve how he tricked me. I’m feeling like a fool. Feeling fooled.
I want him to suffer. I want him to be exposed. I want to set up camp on that corner, ready with a sign which reads ‘LIAR’ that I can carry along behind him while he drags his perfectly healthy foot through traffic the next time, a bright red arrow pointing down at him. I want justice!
For a solid three minutes that man went from car to car. At one point, he was only one car away from me. I saw the pain on his face. The guilt was as untenable as the light. I looked at the door handle and thought about jumping out, trotting over to him, and handing him a five. I almost did. I tell myself that. I almost did. The man I truly believed was suffering, hobbled—ten feet away—and I stayed in my car. A prayer on my lips for him, my faith and my cash tucked away safely.