I’ve known Chuck and his family for over a decade, and so I’m confident his story is true. Why? Because he never, ever, exaggerates or fabricates.
Chuck was between jobs, and so life was difficult for him, his wife, and the relatives they cared for. And so he responded to an ad for an Alaskan company that cleaned and filleted freshly caught salmon. He verified the ad’s claim that if he got himself from Arizona to the Seattle airport, there’d be a round-trip airplane ticket to Alaska for him so he could clean and fillet salmon all summer. He could also live in the company’s trailers and eat at their cafeteria throughout the salmon-canning season. At summer's end, he’d receive his pay, fly back to Seattle, and then on home.
So he headed to Alaska by way of Seattle. When he arrived at the fish cleaning facility, he learned that there were no fish, but if he hung around, he could start work as soon as the fish were caught. It took him two weeks’ of wondering when he’d start earning money to decide he was better off looking for a job back home. And so, without a penny in his pocket, he used the other half of his round-trip ticket.
Once at the Anchorage airport, the only empty seat in the departure lounge was next to a man in a business suit who was waiting for a different flight. The man engaged Chuck in conversation and, when he learned of his failed employment in Alaska, he offered his condolences.
Chuck’s flight was then called, he bid the man goodbye and stood up to leave.
The man asked Chuck to wait a moment, thrust his hand into his pocket, withdrew a roll of bills, and handed it to Chuck wishing him a safe flight home and a successful job search. Chuck, in a rush, thanked the man, put the money in his pocket, and boarded the flight.
The flight was uneventful with Chuck eating some peanuts, drinking a Coke, and snoozing before the plane landed. Chuck then left the airport heading for the Greyhound Bus depot — which was where he learned the bus ticket from Seattle to Arizona cost $150. Penniless, he wondered what to do.
That’s when he recalled the roll of bills the man had given him. He opened the roll, counted the money, and used the entire $150 for the bus ticket home. There was not even enough left to buy a candy bar or a soft drink.
He mentally again thanked the man who gave him the money — which was when he realized he’d have nothing to eat or drink for the 36 hours needed to get to Arizona.
He knew the bus paused at truck stops so passengers could use the facilities and get something to eat. Except that he’d limit himself to the washroom.
Another passenger noticed him doing this and it wasn’t long before she brought him a drink and a bag of chips. It wasn’t clear whether she discussed this with other passengers, but the reality was that after every stop, someone handed Chuck something to eat and drink as the bus headed out. No apparent conversation among passengers, mind you; and certainly no one knew about the man in the Anchorage airport. People just responding to a need they recognized Chuck had.
A day and a half later, Chuck got off in a city not far from where he and his wife lived. He then grabbed his suitcase, headed to the highway, and began thumbing a ride home. And a few hours after getting home, greeting his wife and other family members, and resting up, he began searching for a job — which he ultimately found.
And so, my reader, a question for you: What was the source of this widely available, spontaneous generosity?
Hank Slotnick is a retired UND professor who, with his wife, winters in Pima, Ariz., and summers in Debs.