When I was confronted in the Welcome Break Newport Pagnell services car park on the M1 on the way to see my Dad I immediately thought I would tell this guy to sod off, then he told me his sob story and I gave in.
Having been driving for two hours (45minutes of that spent stationary at junction 7 on the M1) I decided to pull over at the next services and grab some food and a hot cuppa. This was agreed to by my better half and my dear old Nan who were passengers. We had some sandwiches and cups of tea all round, and took some time out.
On the way out, Nan and Laura decided they needed the loo and I said I would meet them by the car. This was where I was accosted, well, I say accosted, but maybe more for dramtic effect than realism.
As I walked up to the car I noticed a guy standing to one side talking animatedly on his mobile phone. As I walked past he saw me and shouted “Excuse me mate?!”. I couldn’t really ignore him so I stopped…
“Can you help me?”
I was wary that this guy wanted a ride. “Erm…help you how?”
“I’m not a lunatic, don’t worry”
“Hmmm” I thought. Is this what a lunatic would say to lull you into a false sense of security? I decided to test him.
“Isn’t that what I lunatic would say?” I asked.
“I feel really uncomfortable doing this” He replied.
Being alone with this guy at 22:00 in a pitch black car-park wasn’t exactly making me feel at ease either, but he didn’t sound very threatening so I decided to take a couple of steps closer.
“What’s up?” I queried. Looking at this skinny, straggly, young student looking guy who had moist eyes.
“I’ve been a real fool, I’ve been stuck here since five o’clock. I live in Brighton and I’m on my way to Milton Keynes. I didn’t fill the car up with petrol, and I pulled in here to fill up but I don’t have any money” and so his story began.
Charlie (for that was his name) got caught short and didn’t have any money to put more petrol in the car. He asked the manager at the petrol garage if there was anything he could do to help, but no. The petrol manager marched him straight to the police station telling him they should be able to help in a ‘it’s not my problem’ kind of way.
The police didn’t do anything whatsoever except move his car from the short term car-park after two hours so he didn’t get a ticket.
Charlie was a member of the RAC who said they would be able to tow him to the nearest garage, but as the fault with the car wasn’t mechanical, they wouldn’t be able to do much more.
His girlfriend (I wasn’t sure whether she was in Milton Keynes or Brighton) went into her local Shell Garage and offered to pay money there for some petrol in Newport Pagnell for Charlie. Unfortunately, Charlie again had no joy.
He went in and spoke to the manager of the Welcome Break services, who wasn’t able to do anything for him, but gave him phone numbers of other service stations to see if they would…alas no. Charlie then asked the manager if it would be ok if he could ask people for money on the premises. The manager being a kind-hearted soul said this would be fine with two conditions attached: 1) Don’t approach any lone women, 2) If anyone complains you’ll have to stop. Which is about where he was when I stepped in.
Throughout the whole conversation he was apologetic, and said he would understand if I wanted to cross-check his story with any of the people he mentioned. He looked cold, upset, and tired.
Normally I don’t give money to strangers, but a) this guy was so genuine that I was nearly brought to tears by his sad story of being stuck in a motorway services for five hours, and b) I was so relieved that he didn’t want a lift anywhere. I pulled a twenty out of my wallet and handed it over. He asked how he would pay me back and I told him not to worry about it, but he insisted that he take my details as he could never take money from someone and not give it back. I gave him a business card and he asked if it would be ok for him to call me tomorrow.
So there we have it. Both my Nan and my other half thought I was crayzee when they got back to the car and I told them what I had done, as did my Dad when we eventually arrived, but my theory is this:
It’s a sad world where someone can be stuck in the middle of nowhere and have no-one believe him, and therefore probably die there. Even if he was a con-man, and the next guy is a con-man, and the next, and the next…if the next guy is in genuine need of help and I have to fork out money to all of them to help that one guy, then I am happy. I would want someone to help me if I was in that situation.
So, we’re waiting for Charlie to phone…….don’t let me down buddy.