You’ve never heard of him. And neither had I until this morning when I received an email from a woman who I’ll call Matilda. She told me about a man she knew years ago.
He was living in his car, parked in a big-box superstore parking lot near the interstate. He was mid-40s, tap-water blue eyes, olive skin, he spoke only Spanish with a strong Argentinian accent.
His dwelling was a beat-up two-door ‘80s model Honda CR-X, which is perhaps the ugliest automobile ever manufactured in the history of mankind save for the Ford Pinto. With a close third being a ‘92 Buick Skylark I once owned.
Nobody really knows how he arrived in the parking lot except that his Honda went kaput one night. He managed to push the CR-X into the store entrance, and after that it was home sweet home.
Each night he would lie beneath his Honda with an electric lantern and a Chilton auto repair manual, turning a ratchet, but never getting closer to actually repairing anything.
To avoid suspicion, he regularly pushed his hunk of vehicular repulsiveness into different parking spaces. Sort of like a game of musical Hondas. But management never ran him off because everyone liked him. In fact, the security guards helped him push the car.
Matilda says, “The employees got used to him being around, he was the first person to say good morning to me every day.”
Honda Guy quickly became a minor legend among employees. There was the night when a stranger placed a garbage bag full of puppies into the store’s Dumpster. Honda Guy saw it happen. He rescued nine newborn hounds and nursed them to life in his backseat. Later he walked several miles to deliver them to a shelter. He kept one puppy for himself.
There was the time an elderly woman’s car broke down. It happened when the temperature was over 100 degrees outside. The lady was beginning to have heat-related health issues.
“He found her,” says Matilda. “He lifted her up and carried her into the store’s air-conditioning, then he spent his own money on car parts to fix her car.”
The irony is staggering.
Matilda remembers one time when a shopper had a diabetic seizure on the sidewalk. It was Honda Guy who called the ambulance on the pay phone, then he accompanied the man to the hospital.
They say he worked small jobs to earn money. He washed dishes, he did construction day labor, he worked on a paint crew sometimes. But he could never hold onto his cash. Money passed through him like a diuretic.
His earnings went primarily to people. People like a 22-year-old employee and single mother named Matilda.
“He took a real interest in me,” Matilda remembers. “He was such a friend. I just knew he really cared.”
They would have long conversations in Español. She confided in him, she told about the obstacles of raising two daughters on nothing but nickels, double shifts, caffeine, and sleep deprivation.
Honda Guy would listen while she wept, he would embrace her, and remind her to “nunca te rindas.” Never give up. Then he would utter elaborate Catholic blessings, like ancient poetry from a bygone word. Matilda says she would have goose flesh.
Often after working late Matilda would crawl into her front seat to find anonymous envelopes of cash. Other times she’d find Styrofoam boxes of restaurant food, or hot pizzas with notes attached to the box: “Para las muñecas.” For the girls.
“He was always looking out for me. Always.”
He was attacked one night. A few kids jumped him and took his shoes, of all things. They knocked out his front teeth. A security guard found him lying on the pavement in a shiny red puddle, his dog curled beside him, whimpering.
Thankfully most wounds were minor, although he was concussed badly. They took him to Matilda’s home where he was bandaged and laid on her sofa-sleeper bed for several weeks.
Throughout his recuperation myriads of employees visited his bedside. Matilda says the visitors never quit coming. They brought flowers, oatmeal cookies, homemade empanadas, fresh pies, handwritten cards, balloons, new clothes, books, money, rosary beads, gift cards, and someone brought him a bike.
Matilda and a few employees chipped in to have the CR-X repaired. When Honda Guy recovered, he found his vehicle purring in Matilda’s driveway. His homely car had been freshly painted—bright silver. The tires were new. The interior had been detailed. He was overcome.
And yet he never drove the car thereafter. At least not more than once.
Because a few mornings later, the empty vehicle was found in the store parking lot. The keys were in the front seat. He had left nothing but a note which Matilda read for a small audience of tearful employees:
“Please giving this car for some one who need it. God bless you.”
God bless us indeed.