Some of my friends are more punctual than others. That, unfortunately, determines how ‘on time’ I am when meeting them. If I have to meet one of them at 7 p.m. then I am either sure to leave in plenty of time or else I will leave right at 7 and arrive late. Wednesday I was meeting a Punctual Friend and had to leave an evening meeting to meet her for dinner and drinks at my favorite Pacific Asian cuisine restaurant.

Except I was running late and I had to get gas and the card reader at the pump wasn’t working. And in the cold night air I was forced to go inside to pay.

That’s not a problem. Usually. But there were many people in there and I felt myself briskly walking to beat a few of them to the counter to pay. One of them beat me and instantly there were four others behind me.

Hurry, I was thinking. Come on come on come on. Let’s go. I gotta get out of here.

She was maybe in her twenties and buying only a bag of cheetos and some cigarettes. Her wallet was, naturally, at the bottom of her purse and difficult to find. When she did she handed the clerk a debit card.

Credit or debit? he asked.


Come on come on come on. I gotta go. I have 6 minutes to get across town. Credit credit credit. Let’s go. Come on. My head was on it’s own, the gray matter swirling around as I focused on trying not to be late.

It’s been declined. Should I try it as credit?

Ummm. Oh. Yeah. Go ahead.

I wanted to butt in and my manners were going to be compromised. I could just feel it. I was going to blurt out I’M IN A HURRY. COME ON. LET’S GO. CAN I GO FIRST?

Sometimes it’s necessary to bite one’s tongue. Literally. Until you can taste your own blood and shut your own self up. My head kept getting in my way and an unexpected flashback to being embarrassed when my own credit cards have been declined finally got to me.

Sorry. That one’s been declined, too. Do you have cash?

Certainly, she did not.

Five minutes now. Five minutes to drive what will take 11 at most. The numbers began to spin around my head. Six dollars for two items. Five minutes. Seven o’clock. Forty two dollars worth of gas. Six. Two. Five. Seven. Forty-two. Let’s go let’s go let’s go.

My body took over though my mind was still impatient and I stepped forward pushing my credit card toward the clerk.

Just put it on my card with the gas, please. I didn’t want to be late and in my selfishness that’s all I could think about. I wanted to say, “I’m in a hurry. It’s fine. Let me pay.” but I didn’t. Because at that precise moment my own need to be on time was displaced with the fact that she couldn’t come up with six dollars on a debit card to pay for her items. Being so broke that six dollars wouldn’t be approved at the gas station took precedence over my other consideration.

Protestations would follow. I would decline.

It’s ok, I assured.

No. You don’t have to do that.

Let me.

No, I have to pay you back. Can I pay you back? She took out her checkbook and asked for my name.

I’ll write you a check. Let me, ok?

Nah. I’m not even going to tell you my name.

I smiled at her. I finally got it. Being kind and realizing that not being able to pay for cheetos and cigarettes far outweighed being punctual.

Well, what can I do? she asked. She wasn’t begging or trying to show any shame. She wasn’t poorly dressed. Probably just that normal twenty-something still-owning-college-furniture kind of gal. Probably wondering what a 401K is and whether or not she should get one. Probably having heard of a Roth IRA but thinking she had a few years to even look into that.

You know what? Why don’t you take some time and go volunteer in a school sometime. Go read to a Kindergarten student or something. I’d love it if you did that.

Ok! She finally broke a smile. I don’t know what will happen. I will believe, however, that she will do it. And I will be late for dinner. And I won’t care one bit.