I have an evening class on Tuesdays, and walked to my car around 9:30 with a classmate last night. It was cold, but we stood around talking for a couple minutes and bonding over irritation for an obnoxious new guy in our class group. Then we both turned our heads at an odd noise in the mostly-empty parking lot: there was a gray-haired man sweeping a long, white cane in front of him and tapping it along the cement curb about 40 feet away from us.
Obviously blind, or at least mostly blind, he was walking at a steady, confident pace, so we continued our conversation. Then the noise changed and we glanced over again; he had turned the other way, then back again, and had a frustrated look on his face.
“Should we see if he needs help?” Becca whispered, echoing my own thoughts. We walked a few steps toward the man and she called out, “Do you need any help finding your car?”
I cringed at her question.
“No,” he said curtly. “I don’t HAVE a car.” His khaki trench coat swayed as he walked on. We stood there awkwardly for a moment, half shrugging our shoulders and not quite knowing what to do next. Was he trying to find the bus stop, or was he heading into the building? Had he accidentally turned off the sidewalk? If that were me, how the hell would I have known what to do without relying on a stranger’s assistance?
We had just turned around to go back to our cars when he called out in an irritated voice, “Where’s the entrance to this parking lot?”
Becca redeemed herself by telling him he was headed in the right direction, it was just a little farther—yep, almost there—and he turned back onto the sidewalk and crossed the street. I made a mental note to adjust my pedestrian vigilance while driving on campus.
I said good night to Becca and we got into our cars. She drove off right away, but I let my car warm up a little first. As I shivered, I watched the man as he continued walking confidently away from campus. He should have turned after crossing the street to reach the bus stop. My car’s thermometer read 30 degrees.
I was faced with the dilemma of wanting to help but not being sure if he needed help or would even accept it if offered. I didn’t want to offend him, but I also didn’t want him to get lost and walk around all night in freezing temperatures.
I finally decided that if it were me, or if it were a stubborn late-middle-aged relative, I would appreciate a stranger showing some polite concern—even at the risk of causing offense. There weren’t any other cars in sight, so I pulled up next to him and rolled down the passenger side window. It crossed my mind that this kind of scenario might stereotypically result in a “Hey baby, need a ride?” with cat call, but instead I said, “Excuse me, sir?”
He paused to listen, and a half smile spread across the left side of his face as I stammered my question.
“I was with the… other girl… back in the parking lot? And I just wanted to… make sure… you, uh… didn’t need any, uh… extra assistance?”
“No,” he said. “I’m fine.” His tone was more calm than it had been before.
“Okay,” I said.
“Thank you,” he added, with a little wave of his free hand.
“You’re welcome.” I rolled up my window and drove off. Yes, I thought, that was the right thing to do. I would not have liked to go home and wonder for the rest of my life if he’d actually needed help but was too proud to ask for it.
So what would you have done in that situation? What lines do you draw when you come across someone who you believe might benefit from the assistance of a stranger? Did I overstep my bounds? Would you have offered him a ride? I’m soliciting your opinions.
How do you ask a blind man if he needs help?