Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Topeka, KS

Yesterday, July 1, 2008, at about noon, I was on my way home in my work van, pulling a trailer full of things I had removed from my daughter's garage following her garage sale. At a stop sign in northwest Topeka, I was behind a city bus that for some reason wasn't moving from the four-way stop. After a minute or so, it pulled away and I saw a black woman who had just gotten off the bus. She waved to get my attention, so I rolled my passenger window down. She said she was needing to get to Silver Lake, a town that is about 8 miles farther west on Highway 24. She looked pleasant and harmless as well as helpless, so I said, "Get in, I'll take you there."

As we started north, I explained that I needed to change vehicles at my home, so I wouldn't be taking my trailer on the highway and possibly having something blow off. "Oh, that's just fine," she said cheerfully. I asked her why she was going to Silver Lake, and she replied simply, "to find lodging." She indicated that she didn't know anyone in the town. I said I had just spent the morning cleaning out my daughter's garage. She replied, "I bet she really appreciated that!" to which I replied, "Yeah, especially since most of it was my stuff." She laughed. She was truly a pleasant, congenial person, so I tried to draw her out a bit.

"Are you a Christian?" I inquired, "a born-again believer?" She said "Oh yes," but didn't elaborate. She began asking me about Silver Lake, the town. I said it was a small community of less than 2000, but a really nice little town. She wanted to know how many blacks lived there, to which I replied probably 10% or less. I supposed that she might be disappointed that it was a bit whiter than most larger cities. She said that she was on a "one woman fight against domestic and other abuse," and that she had been abused by black police officers. "Here in Topeka?" I asked, and she replied yes. She asked if I was sure that Silver Lake had only 10% blacks, and I said it might be as few as 5%, but those I had met while going to the town's annual city-wide garage sale seemed like nice, respectable sorts.

"I would like it fine if it was only 1%, or none. I don't like black people! White people are much nicer." To this I laughed out loud, and then reassured her that I was laughing with her, not at her. We traded vehicles at my home, I got her a cold diet Coke, which she greatly appreciated, then we hurried off to Silver Lake. I explained to her that I need to be back quickly, so my wife could have her car to go to a funeral.

The trip was uneventful, and while she was not talkative, she was very articulate in her responses to my attempts to initiate conversation. I asked her where she would like me to take her in Silver Lake, and she wanted to go anywhere they might have a copy machine. She had given me a one-page handout describing her "one woman mission," but I hadn't had time to even glance at it. I had left it in my other van anyway. I suggested that one of the chuches might be willing to let her make some copies and perhaps help her find lodging. I pointed them out as we drove through the town. She asked if I knew where the police department was, and I didn't, so she suggested city hall. We stopped there briefly, which is in the same building as the fire department. She went inside and left a brochure. She asked to be dropped off at a grocery store, and then wanted to know if I might be so kind as to make a small donation so she could buy some Depends. I gave her $20, told her to keep the change, and with a smile and expressions of her sincere gratitude, she was gone. She first asked me for my address, so she could send me a thank-you card. I wrote it on the only paper I could find at hand, last Sunday's church bulletin. It will be interesting to see what, if anything she sends. Since our pastor's name and phone number were on the bulletin, I think it is probably more likely that I will receive a thank-you from her, but probably none from our pastor...

Back home again and scolded for being late, I retrieved the photocopied sheet of paper she had given me. I was amazed to find what appeared to be senseless, disconnected ramblings about "microwave abuse," and other strange subjects, nearly identical to those already posted. I won't take the time to reproduce it here. On the flip side was "The Salvation Army, Lawrence, Kansas, Emergency Shelter Resident Agreement." It was dated in hand-written pen, Sunday, June 29, 2008.

Godspeed, Marilyn, whereever and whoever you are. I may be $20 the poorer for having met you, but I am richer for the most unusual experience. I do wish you well, in this life and the next.