A stolen wallet, a moral dilemma, and a run in with the army


I made a bad choice. There’s no other way to put it. Presented with a moral dilemma I took the low road, justifying it in anger. All of that is skipping ahead. Let’s start at the beginning. It’s gotten to the point where I consider days like this standard fare for life on the road. I’m not sure I’m happy about that. Two weeks ago it ended in a power cord missing, a trip to jail, and two sleepless nights. Two days ago landed me buying scalped tickets off of some underaged guy on the street a half hour after being a part of the Occupy Seattle General Assembly. Tonight it was the army and a lost wallet.

We were on the road as my partner went through paperwork. She added up the forms and found out this was our best day yet for sales. Then she said, “I don’t know where my wallet is.”

“What?” I said.

All I could think about is one way or another this was going to cause a delay to Portland, and I love Portland. My last trip to Portland ended with a stolen bike and an unexpected three mile run at two in the morning due to a lack of public transit. Between that, a concert, an hour long lecture on the symbolism of Watchmen, endless vegetarian options, and the chance to catch up with an old friend, I had nothing but fond memories of Portland. And that was all in a 25 hour period on top of teaching an 8 hour seminar. I know. Could this magical city get any better? I was hoping to rehash that experience when 35 minutes into our two hour drive I heard, ‘I don’t know where my wallet is.’

She went through her purse two or three times and then moved to her bag in the backseat.

I went to pull over at the next exit so she could look through the trunk but after exiting was stopped at a checkpoint by four men dressed in army uniforms.

“Hi,” I said, “We were just trying to get off to check a bag in back - didn’t realize this was a - whatever this is. Could we just make a U?”

“I’m going to have to see your ID, sir,” he said.

I handed him my ID, and he looked at it for about twenty seconds.

Then he said, “Please follow me.”

He walked past the checkpoint, and signalled me to follow. Stopping the oncoming traffic he made me turn my car around, and once it was facing the opposite direction handed me back my ID.

“There you go,” he said.

“Thanks?” My parnter was still looking through her bag.

As we drove to the next exit I was mostly tuning out her phone conversation with La Quinta, lost in my own thoughts. I thought about how last time we were out she had left a power cord behind causing her two nights of hell, and of the $400 sitting in the lost wallet from money collected from students who had paid for the class in cash. Mostly, I fumed over how all of this would end in me missing any free time in Portland. About a mile later we found a gas station.

She couldn’t find anything in the trunk, and despite La Quinta not having found it either, we needed to turn back.

At one point she said, “It’s a good thing I saw it now, rather than when we were already in Portland.”

“Well, for you it is - if we had already been in Portland, you would have been driving alone,” I said. I was pretty sure I was supposed to feel bad for her at some level, but I was too angry to empathize.

When we got to the hotel Michael and Geremy from maintenance had already gone through the room. The tablecloths were removed. She knew exactly where she left it - underneath the presentation table - and they said they didn’t find it there. After checking the room myself, I got a flashlight, and double checked the car. She talked with the hotel staff, seeing what else she could do.

Back in the hotel, Michael, from maintenance, suggested looking through the trash. He went to do that, and found it five minutes later. The money was gone.

“We’ve seen that a lot - stealing a wallet, taking the money - and throwing it out,” he said.

As we headed back to the car, she consoled herself, saying, “I’m just glad I have my ID.”

At some level I knew she was going through hell, and this was my chance to help her out. I said, “Yeah. Well, here’s the keys.”

“After all I just went through you’re going to make me drive?” she said.

“You just cost us an hour and a half. You can drive for the rest.”

Holding the wheel at 11 & 1, sitting erect, shaking a little, she’s driving right now, keeping slightly more than 6 inches from any one bumper. I type a bit and close my eyes thinking how I let my anger get to me, and made a bad choice. Caught in my own distorted sense of right and wrong, giving her a punishment for causing a delay, I missed the chance to help. I didn’t have control over much tonight, but the small thing I could have done, I didn’t. And I’m sorry. I’ll be a better person next time.

And for the record, this just about sums up life on the road.

Feature Image Source via Flickr

Speaking, WritingJeremy Shuback