It probably ranks as one of the stupider things I have ever done. Right up there with towing a drunk girl’s wrecked car instead of calling the police.
My partner-in-crime and I were headed to the French Quarter one gorgeous Sunday when we saw a man on the freeway. The man seemed slightly deranged, walking on the side of the interstate overpass and trying to hail down a car. This particular stretch of freeway in New Orleans is right by both a jail and a hospital, as well as one of the most dangerous projects in the city. But I didn’t think about that at the time. I saw a man who was not well, with a hospital bracelet standing out stark-white on his hairy wrist. So we pulled over.
The man hobbled up to the car, reminding me of a demented Robert DeNiro, and he was obviously not feeling very well. Vomit was encrusted in to the lapels of his shirt and his eyes blurred at the edges. He seemed to only be half there, telling us a convoluted story about being in the hospital, being released and trying to get home.
Perhaps it was naive of me, but he didn’t seem dangerous so we merged back onto the freeway and started heading out to Chalmette, where he said his home was.
It certainly wasn’t as easy as it sounds. I was a pile of nerves as we rode the twisting highway that heads through projects and destroyed neighborhoods on the way out to St. Bernard Parish, the complete opposite side of the city where we were originally headed. The man only seemed half there, dropping off of sentences and dipping in and out of semi-consciousness. Did this man even know where he was directing us? Was this really safe? Should we have gone to the police station? Are we going to have to go to a hospital? What in the hell were we thinking??
It was a 20 minute drive out to his house. For those who do not know the New Orleans area, that is actually quite far. You can usually drive wherever you need to go within 15 minutes in this city. And when we pulled up it looked vacant, setting off a whole new host of worries. Did he direct us to the right place? Is this his house? Can we in good conscience just leave him here?
Just as this last thought passed through my mind a huge, black 4×4 truck pulled up right behind our miniature compact, sedan, dwarfing the mirrors. A scruffy man in his mid to late 20s stepped out, with a glare on his face and tattoos covering his arms. He had a rosary hanging outside his ribbed, white tanktop and looked like he was about to do some damage before he saw the deranged man rolling out of our back seat. His eyes immediately softened and he went over to him, gently scolding about not calling when he was released from the hospital.
The story came out jumbled, both from the older man’s drugged state and our fear, but the guy looked at us and simply said “Thank you”.
The man we had driven home was the scruffy man’s father-in-law and was supposed to be released from the hospital from a major surgery later on in the day. They had all been worried sick when he turned up missing, still high from the pain killers they gave him in recovery. He told us he was going to say a few prayers for us and then ushered his father-in-law into his house.
When people ask me why I do this sort of work, why I dedicate my life to humanitarian rather than monetary or capital gains, many things come to my mind. I can say it’s the right thing to do, I can say it brings purpose and meaning to my life.
But the truth of why I do this lies in the eyes of that man’s son-in-law. It lies in the opportunities provided to a child when he doesn’t have to miss school due to a waterborne disease. It lies in giving a woman who has had a really tough night another chance.
It lies in the opportunity to help someone else.