“If my car was clean, I could come and get you.”

What kind of a world is it when… is a phrase often invoked in the face of a once-and-supposed good thing gone bad, the corruption of a formally (seemingly) innocent act, a kindness that gets dissected to see what cancer really lays beneath, or a eulogy for choices once easy now hamstrung by doubt.

Waiting out a layover in Chicago’s O’Hare airport en route to Boise, Idaho, I thought it’d prudent to call ahead to the hotel to let them know we’d be checking in late. The conversation with Jane the Hotel Clerk was standard front desk fare, but it veered suddenly when I inquired about an airport shuttle and was informed the hotel had none.

“If my car was clean, I could come and get you,” says the young voice on the other end of the line. I stumble a bit and asked her to repeat, stammering that it was a kind offer but way out of the line of duty “and, anyway, we are musicians with a lot of gear.”

“We’ll work it out,” she says and I find myself on the receiving end of a plan that includes a shift ending, a car cleaning, a co-worker, a plea not to tell anybody about the offer, and an exchange of cell numbers.

Should I have been so thrown? It was a small-town kindness, but is Boise a small town? Is it kind? One stranger offers another stranger a ride—there’s  something glorious there, and some shadowy thing right behind the glory. Optics, optics, optics is all I can think about. That and, this young woman shouldn’t be offering strange men a lift anywhere these days. “Let me talk this over with my partner,” I say, and beneath our masks Stephen and I whisper back-and-forth.

Let’s just say it: nobody knows the rules anymore.

“Could be a good caper,” SJ says.
“Could be a trap,” I say.
“Could be the Gods offering a little help in the face of adversity,” he says.
“Could be a trap,” I say.

What kind of world is it when you have to second-guess every surprising thing that floats your way? The answer: a world that demands you make the right choice – every time – and sometimes you have to choose for everyone.

In the end gently refused the offer, and in order to say ‘sorry’ and ‘thanks’ in the same move, I let her know that we would set aside a couple of tickets in her name at the door to this thing we’ve come to town to do, something called A Night of Grief & Mystery.
“Google it,” I texted.
“OMG… tysm!” she texted back. 

It took me a few seconds to figure out what the jumble of letters meant and I signed off as any good father would:
“Make good choices, Jane.”

gh
Boise, Idaho, Sept. 13, 2:00am