"Are you traveling on foot?" I asked in a friendly tone. I didn't want to use the word "homeless."
The man was clean cut, his clothes neat and well arranged. He had on blue jeans, a button up long sleeve shirt with what looked like some sort of a Native American pin where the top buttons of the shirt came together. He wore brown leather work boots. He had a gray mustache. Tufts of gray hair bordered the edge of his warm hat. He looked to be in his sixties and was missing at least one lower tooth.
"I'm on my way to the VA hospital near Asheville, in Oteen," he responded.
"Where are you coming from?" I asked.
"Virginia. I've been to the VA in Richmond in the past, but I don't like that hospital. Oteen has taken better care of me, so I want to get to Oteen."
I was familiar with both VA Hospitals from when Dad was alive.
I asked the man if he was hungry. He gladly accepted my box of morsels, but was more interested in getting warm.
"Do you think you could buy me a cup of coffee? I'm chilled to the bone."
"Sure," I responded. "What size?"
"Small or medium is fine."
I went to the counter and asked if they sold coffee, but they didn't.
"Do you sell any hot beverage?" I asked.
"No; I'm sorry," the cashier replied.
I walked back to the booth, no coffee in hand.
The veteran shared some of his story. I asked some questions, but not too many.
He was from Culpepper, Virginia. He had stayed in a homeless shelter in Virginia recently, but it had a limit of only two weeks. He was apparently hitch hiking his way to Oteen; he had suffered an aneurysm in the past and was concerned about his health again. Yesterday a man had given him a ride from Mebane and had put him up at the Holiday Inn last night here in Clemmons. A lady had washed the couple changes of clothes he had with him. The veteran had been trying to get a ride all day at the I-40 westbound ramp just down the road with no luck. He needed a place out of the cold tonight. He wanted to know if there were any places nearby open 24 hours where he might stay warm.
He seemed genuine. Right or wrong, I believed his story. I mentioned the homeless shelter in downtown Winston as a 24-hour place. He didn't want that; his goal was Oteen. I thought about the bus station; it was open 24 hours. I didn't mention it because the bus station probably wasn't a place to linger all night long. At that moment, it didn't cross my mind to buy him a bus ticket to Oteen.
I thought how I'd like to take him home and give him a warm place to stay. Hubby and I would be heading west Friday night and going right past Oteen, which was over two hours away. But last time I took in a homeless person, it didn't work out too well. A friend had said to me, "Carol, most people take in stray animals. You take in stray people."
The veteran's sister was supposed to wire him some money on Thursday; he had a dollar and some change left in cash. He thought he'd be in Oteen by Thursday, but here it was Wednesday evening and he still hadn't made it. His larger suitcase on wheels had been stolen. He had parked it for a moment outside a truck stop while he went in to get some coffee and go to the bathroom. He came out, and it was gone. Most of his clothes and his medical records had been in the stolen suitcase. He didn't share in a complaining manner, but rather with a disappointment that people would steal and yet with gratitude for the all the good in life.
"The man who put me up last night mentioned a truck stop in a place called Mocksville?"
"I think there is a Truck Stop America there. Mocksville is only about a ten-minute drive from here." I responded.
I pondered what I could do to help the man. I really didn't want to miss my writing workshop which started in less than two hours. But I was willing to miss it if needed. Ice was supposed to hit the Piedmont area on Thursday night; he needed to get west before it hit.
"I can take you to Oteen tonight, if you'd like. Or I can take you down to the truck stop, if you prefer."
"Well, if I get to Oteen late tonight, it wouldn't do any good. They can't see me until the day time hours."
"But it'd put you right there for in the morning."
He thought for a moment, "I think I'd rather try the truck stop. I feel sure I can get a ride from there to Oteen tomorrow." He seemed tired, like he just wanted to rest somewhere and get warm and start traveling again on Thursday.
We loaded his items in the back of my 1999 Ford Explorer and headed west on I-40 for the ten-minute drive to locate the truck stop.
On my way home from the dentist... (part one)
On my way home from the dentist... (part two)
On my way home from the dentist... (part three)
On my way home from the dentist... (part four)