More Dogs on Main Street
May 15, 2009
During the recent flu panic, I did the only reasonable thing. I packed up and went to Moab. There was enough going on here that I couldn’t stay more than a couple of days, but it was just the attitude adjustment I needed. When it was time to head for home, I stopped in at the big gas station to fill up the car. The place was busy, with cars waiting to get to the pumps and the convenience store packed. Jeeps, motorcycles, rickety buses from river companies, huge motor homes the whole spectrum of gas-burning options was there filling up. I don’t know if the recession is over, but business looked pretty brisk.
While I was filling my car, a guy approached and kind of half whispered at me something like, "I know this is going to sound like a scam, but I kind of lost my wallet and need some cash to get me home." He was right, of course, it did sound like a scam. But it also sounded like a real jam. In today’s world, if you have lost your wallet and the little magnetic strips on the back of your credit cards, you cease to exist. I mean you exist as a live person who walks and talks, and would eat if only you had the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card. But as far as engaging in commerce, without a wallet, you might as well be a mountain goat.
He continued to explain his plight while I filled the tank. He had a reasonably nice car, one of the newer model Jeeps that would never go off-road. There was a nice mountain bike on the roof. He was carrying his laptop computer and an iPhone. Even without a wallet, a laptop computer and an iPhone are pretty solid indicators that he wasn’t a bum, or that if he was a bum, he had pretty good taste in what he stole. But being at the end of a trip to Moab, he kind of looked like a bum (not that I didn’t).
The longer he went on, the more I got wondering why, with all the people in the parking lot, he had zeroed in on me for a loan. The heavily tattooed bikers didn’t look particularly approachable, but I’d be willing to bet they were each carrying more cash than I, and probably enjoyed helping somebody out of jam. The old couple with the Winnebago seemed likely candidates, though he probably would have had to stay for dinner a nice tuna hot dish. But between the extremes of the outlaw bikers (who were probably just vacationing accountants) and Garrison Keillor’s grandparents, the gas station was full of pretty ordinary-looking people. But for some reason, the stranger who needed a loan decided I was the one.
Of course, he was right. He said he needed $60 to get gas and food for the drive home. I didn’t have much cash on me, and really wasn’t willing to gamble that I’d never see it again. So I gave him enough to top off his tank, which would get him home, but without a greasy burger at Ray’s in Green River.
Right there, on the hood of his Jeep, he entered my name and address on his computer and pushed a button which, he claimed, caused a check to be mailed from his account. If he could do that for $20, he could do it for $60. He seemed to think that having it on his laptop made the whole transaction more legitimate than if he had written my address on his hand with a pen and mailed a regular check from home. Pushing the button would mail the check, and the software wouldn’t let him overdraft, he said. Isn’t that what Bernie Madoff said?
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It seemed like he could push another button and undo it just as quickly. The clerk in the gas station had already rejected that whole process when he had tried to pay for his gas that way. I’m old-fashioned enough that I like my banks to have walls and roofs. I’m not sure about banks that exist only on wireless laptops. Of course I also like banks to have money, but those days are apparently gone.
Anyway, he wirelessly pushed electrons around on his computer screen, I gave him $20 which I never expected to see again, and we headed our separate ways. A couple of days later, a check arrived in the mail. It took me a minute to figure out what it was, since I had more or less forgotten about the parking-lot loan. But there it was. I’ve deposited it, but don’t know that it has cleared yet. I’m betting that it will.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.