Monday, April 6, 2009

Conversation Without Words!

I never thought it possible to hold a conversation with a complete stranger without exchanging a single word. But life's full of surprises, which makes it fun...when they're the good surprises!

I'd pulled up to the angled parking space outside a Walgreens in Chicago, next to an enormous white van. Preoccupied, I was there to fill a prescription for my father, who'd had a surgical procedure done just a couple of hours earlier. Then I planned to dash next door to the grocery store to pick up a few cans of soup and a loaf of bread to keep his meals "light" as instructed.

Living a couple of miles from a small town, I'm not used to plugging parking meters. One of the great virtues of life outside a major metropolitan area is that pretty much every big store and shopping mall comes with acres of free parking. I can't think of a single parking meter in the nearest city of about 35,000. When I buy groceries, I try to get rid of the spare change in my purse, laboriously digging through the bottom to find the exact combination of pennies, dimes, and quarters that will lighten the collection of coins weighing down my shoulder bag and return me one more piece of folding money from the checkout clerk. It drives my kids nuts. So what else is new?

So I rifled through the coin collection underneath the dollar bills, and retrieved a few dimes and a couple of nickels. Not bad, I thought. You could buy a least an hour or two of parking by the courthouse where I work in yet another small town with that handful of change. I stepped out of the car and locked it, then walked up to the side of the meter that faced away from the street. Damn. It only took quarters. I put the smaller coins in my pocket, then unzipped the purse and clumsily started fishing again. I came up with a single quarter, enough to buy me fifteen minutes of time at the pharmacy, certainly more than I needed.

I plugged the meter, then started to zip the purse closed. Nearby a horn started honking insistently. I looked up, and realized that the honking was coming from the white van. Staring at me through the windshield was the driver, a man a bit older than me, who caught my eye. He pantomimed that I actually needed to put money in the meter next to the one I had just plugged. Oops!

I smiled, moved a few feet down the street, and started fishing in my purse again. Damn my luck--that had been my last quarter. I pouted and shrugged in the van driver's direction, showing my empty palms to the sky. Then I got back in the car, turned the key in the ignition, and started to back out of the parking space.

I heard the honking once more. Curious, I put my car in park and looked at the van again. What, was he planning to hand me some change for the meter? The driver smiled, and pointed to the meter directly in front of his van. Then he started to inch slowly out of his parking space. I understood immediately--chivalry was not dead, it was alive and well on a pot-holed city street outside a chain pharmacy. The white van cautiously cleared the parking space it had occupied, then held back while I pulled my itty bitty subcompact car out and maneuvered it into the space I had mistakenly fed my last quarter to.

I laughed to myself at this act of courtesy, and as the driver of the van pulled abreast of my car, I opened the door and theatrically, extravagantly, blew him a big kiss. My smile could have lit up a moonless night.

Hours later, our random, silent exchange can still make me laugh! Whoever said you need words for a conversation?

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