It started with grape soda.
His tooth glinted at me and I was caught between a rock and a hard spot as I stared at the tiniest cluster of diamonds you could fit on an incisor. Well, I guess it wasn't so much a rock and a hard spot as it was the sporadic traffic of Reading Road and my Saab.
He wanted a drink. He said he was so thirsty and he asked me for a drink as we stood there in the rain. His hoodie was wet and his cheeks were covered in a haze of black curly hair. He looked like he hadn't showered in days.
It was funny. Most of the time I am polite and occasionally overly sweet - I guess it's just my nature. I go out of my way to make moments convenient and comfortable and congenial for people. But on this occasion I felt a bit less malleable, a little bit more gritty. Make no mistake about it, I was still polite, but something inside me said this was not an occasion to appear a pushover.
He offered to pump my gas. I let him put the pump in the tank and we sat there and chitchatted about the weather - the rain. He was so grateful. I was amazed that something so simple could make someone so happy.
He stopped at the 10 dollar mark - after spending maybe 30 seconds of stop-and-go pumping two dollars earlier. I'd already swiped my card and paid for the gas but told him I'd go inside and get whatever he wanted if he'd just wait a minute.
I felt simultaneous twinges of skepticism and guilt as I pressed the automatic lock button on my key fob while walking from the car.
The gas station was packed with people buying little cigars and Hawaiian Punch and lottery tickets and toilet paper. I made it to my place in line and waited - watching the man in the over sized plaid button down shirt as he read off dozens of combinations of numbers scrawled in pencil on a long strip of paper.
I waited until it was my turn and was embarrassed I didn't have the cash to pay for such a small charge. The clerk made me sign the slip and I stepped back out into the rain.
He was hustling another girl who looked like she was on her way to a nearby building on UC's campus.
I held out the two bottles of Welch's grape soda and his mouth spread apart and he gave me the only gift he had - the biggest smile I'd seen all day. That encrusted tooth sparkled as he showed his thanks.
I hopped in my European car and sat in the seat with bum warmers and wondered whether anything I'd experienced this entire week would make me feel the same way.