Hotter than Hades

A gas station. It is 102 degrees outside. I came here to pump gas and—God willing—buy some Chili Cheese Fritos. I’m wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves.

That last sentence is something I wouldn’t have written four months ago.

In fact, if you were to tell me four months ago that everyone in the whole world would be wearing face masks and latex products, I would have laughed you off your barstool, then told you to buy me another beer.

But here we are. Everyone in the store is wearing a mask. Young, middle-aged, and elderly. Women wear masks that match their outfits. Children wear masks that look like they were manufactured in Candyland.

This world is a very different place. What a difference four months can make.

There are several of us waiting to checkout, but we’re not moving because an old man is holding up the line.

He is drenched in sweat, trembling, and confused. He counts his change on the counter. He is buying a Coke, but he’s having a hard time communicating with the cashier.

I can’t blame him. Surgical masks have changed basic person-to-person communication. Conversations are nearly impossible. And people do not shake hands anymore.

I saw an old friend yesterday and we both resisted the urge to pump hands. It was weird. This is the first time I’ve lived in a world where grown men touch elbows instead of using hearty handshakes.

You definitely wouldn’t have touched elbows four months ago.

The old man is still having problems. Bless his heart. He is every old man you’ve ever known. He is slightly unshaven, wearing rumpled khakis, and a ball cap with a battleship embroidered on front.

Finally, the cashier says, “Sir, don’t worry about the money. You can have the Coke. It’s on me.”

The man stares at her. “Huh?”

“I said it’s free.”

The cashier further demonstrates her point by physically taking cash from her purse and placing it into the drawer. “Free.”

The old man begins thanking her over and again. His weak voice is breaking, it sounds like he’s about to weep. Those of us in line are smiling because this guy could be anyone’s granddaddy.

The old man begins shuffling to the door, but before he gets too far a young man in line calls after him.“Sir?”

The young man is dressed in a neon-orange work shirt and muddy boots. “Do you need a ride?”

The old man points to his good ear.

So Orange Shirt repeats himself, louder this time.

The old man answers, “No, I don’t need a ride, I walked. I live down that way, it’s only a mile, I’ll be okay on foot.”

Everyone sort of looks at each other. He walked? We in the convenience-store line are not liking the sound of this because (a) this man must be in his mid-eighties and (b) it is hotter than hell and half of Alabama outside.

“Please let me give you a ride,” says Orange Shirt.

“No thanks.”

“I won’t take no for an answer, sir.”

The old man considers the young man’s offer, but he still seems very confused. Maybe it’s the heat that’s getting to him. His clothes are wet, like soggy parchment paper. His pants are sagging. His mask is barely hanging on.

A middle-aged mother in line speaks up. “I live really close to where he’s going, I can drive him.”

The cogs in the old man’s heat-weary mind are cranking. He is trying to keep it together, but he’s getting stressed out. Too many people talking at once.

Orange Shirt insists. “Please sir, it would be my pleasure to give you a ride.”

But Minivan Mom is not giving up. She says, “My van has the air conditioner already running.”

For a few minutes Orange Shirt and Minivan Mom are politely arguing over who will take the old man home. I wish they would just get down onto the floor and leg wrestle like modern civilized adults. My money’s on Mom.

The old man has finally had enough. He says, “Look, thanks for the offers, but I’m okay walking.” He turns to leave.

And this time it’s the cashier who stops him.

“Wait,” the cashier says. “I don’t feel comfortable with you walking in this heat, sir. Please let someone drive you home.”

Everyone in line voices their agreement.

“She’s right,” says one lady.

“Yeah,” says another.

“It’s very hot outside,” adds another man who talks just like me, and lives in my house. He is also deadly handsome.

Soon, six strangers in this small, nondescript American convenience store are deeply concerned for an old man’s well-being. We have never met each other before, and we don’t know this man from Adam’s mother-in-law. But we are people, and that is enough.

Eventually the old man caves in. He agrees to let Orange Shirt give him a ride, and we count this as a minor victory. We almost feel like applauding.

We all watch the old man leave the store and crawl into a white truck with the young workman. The elderly man notices us watching through the glass, so he waves goodbye. Six of us wave back. And it’s hard not to feel good about what just happened here.

“He shouldn’t be walking in this heat,” says Minivan Mom.

“No,” says another. “Too dangerous.”

“He was such a sweet man,” says Minivan.

“He really was.”

“God bless him,” says the cashier. “And God bless everybody here for caring so much.”

Which is something else you might not have heard four months ago.

45 comments

  1. Sandi. - July 15, 2020 6:20 am

    Hi Sean, I relish heartwarming stories like this one. And had I been inside that gas station, I would’ve gladly paid for your Chili Cheese Fritos.

    Reply
  2. Dawn A Bratcher - July 15, 2020 6:43 am

    Hopefully, many more will come to realize how much we need each other in this world. We can’t physically touch but we can connect in a spiritual way by loving our fellow man. Let us pray for a spiritual awakening.

    Reply
  3. Steve Winfield [Lifer] - July 15, 2020 7:30 am

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve become much better at helping people out. I almost always give homeless or beggers 5 bucks at least. People counting change to pay I’ll offer to help. Every time I see a situation & don’t help I feel guilty. I wish I were more attentive & stepped up every time. God blesses me with work so I always have a little extra to share.
    If we could all be more loving & generous because we all matter.

    Reply
  4. Nell Thomas - July 15, 2020 8:16 am

    Thanks for sharing this story.
    Just last week my brother was driving alone and saw a older man walking along the road. It was one of the hottest days so far this summer. He saw the man fall over into the ditch. My good samaritan brother stopped to check on him along with another gentleman. The man was able to tell them he had medical problems and needed help.
    They called 911. Got help in a matter of minutes.
    This could have easily been the outcome for the gentleman in the store, if so many caring people had not come to his aide and insisted on giving him a ride. God bless all of them.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Ward Vance - July 15, 2020 8:51 am

    Thanks, Deadly Handsome Guy, for sharing this sweet story!

    Reply
  6. Ann - July 15, 2020 9:37 am

    We need to hear of more kindnesses like this…it’s out there just overshadowed by negativity…..just as my tears were forming, the startlingly handsome young man in line stepped in…😂..what a lovely way to begin my day, God bless you, Sean..HUGS… not elbow!

    Reply
  7. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - July 15, 2020 10:30 am

    Bless you for sharing this. Or is it “Bless y’all”?

    Reply
  8. topdock - July 15, 2020 11:19 am

    God bless us, every one !!

    Reply
  9. MermaidGrammy - July 15, 2020 11:37 am

    Today’s story illustrates why I have enjoyed the quarantine! We’ve begun to recognize what is important

    Reply
  10. MR Russell - July 15, 2020 11:52 am

    “It’s very hot outside,” adds another man who talks just like me, and lives in my house. He is also deadly handsome.” I love this line!!!🤣

    Reply
  11. John - July 15, 2020 12:03 pm

    I sometimes wish my words could touch people the way yours do. I’d like to write your stories. But I don’t have to: you’re already doing a magnificent job! Thanks, Sean!

    Reply
  12. Sue Rhodus - July 15, 2020 12:07 pm

    God bless them all…everyone !

    Reply
  13. Jo Ann - July 15, 2020 12:22 pm

    May God bless all the good people, who still outnumber the evil ones, though we don’t often hear or read about them. Thank you for sharing stories about those good people, Sean.

    Reply
  14. Debbie Burdick - July 15, 2020 12:25 pm

    We are people, and that is enough. This, I will take with me through this hotter-than-Hades day. Your pen (or keyboard) becomes a mirror reflecting what we all need to see. Thank you for this.

    Reply
  15. Heidi - July 15, 2020 12:33 pm

    Thanks for this. I so needed to hear something good and decent.

    Reply
  16. Jan - July 15, 2020 12:38 pm

    Amen and amen! You make me cry in the best possible way. Thanks, Sean!

    Reply
  17. Phil S. - July 15, 2020 12:43 pm

    Could the moral to this story be somewhere within that old saying about there being a silver lining in every cloud?

    Reply
  18. D Moore - July 15, 2020 1:00 pm

    It’s the way of the South. Thank you Sean for sharing that good, caring people are still out there. This is how it used to be before we all stared at our phones. Look up…see each other, notice, give a darn.

    Reply
  19. Bkr - July 15, 2020 1:11 pm

    First article,story anything I’ve read that had the words “face mask” in it that I enjoyed. I’m so thankful you didn’t use those words in your title because I instantaneously delete emails with that in subject line. Don’t want to hear about them or think about them. But this made me happy. So thank you. Made the impossible possible. You’re good.

    Reply
  20. deborah b. boswell - July 15, 2020 1:19 pm

    LOVE THIS! Thank you Sean. Thank you.

    Reply
  21. Lauren D Ulrich - July 15, 2020 1:45 pm

    In the midst of all the wondering about “what’s good in this mess?” stories like this are vital. Thank you~

    Reply
  22. Tommy - July 15, 2020 1:55 pm

    Well, it is the South ya know . . . .

    Reply
  23. Christina - July 15, 2020 2:22 pm

    Surprised by kindness! This is the best!

    Reply
  24. Dave - July 15, 2020 3:18 pm

    Hey Sean, I talk like that now being in Alabama since 1979 (2 weeks after Freddy hit) and raised in upstate New York. Wife and I spent the majority of our 53 years together working as a Construction Engineer and traveling all over our country. We met in Colorado (had 1 kid), then on to Sioux City (had another kid), Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, and finally Alabama. I found a good thing for Grandpas to do in our time of strife. I sent a daily story to the grandkids, telling of our adventures. The toys were 2 aircraft, 2 snow machines, 3 boats (bass, sail and kayak), a few motorcycles, and a 4WD truck with camper. We have been truly blessed (southern talk). 🙂

    Reply
  25. Gordon - July 15, 2020 3:26 pm

    Wonderful story for this Wednesday morning, Sean. It touched my heart, as I know it probably touched many more hearts. I certainly needed this today. Thanks

    Reply
  26. Sandra RANKIN Jones - July 15, 2020 4:07 pm

    So proud of all these caring people.

    Reply
  27. Mike Bone - July 15, 2020 4:16 pm

    ” everyone in the whole world would be wearing face masks and latex products”…..therein is the problem. Not everyone is wearing masks. IF they would do that for a month, the new cases would drop like a submarine with screen doors.

    Reply
  28. Marge - July 15, 2020 4:26 pm

    Thank you, Sean, for constantly reminding me of the goodness that remains in our world! This time of “reset” is gonna bear the fruit of realizing the importance of the Golden Rule!

    Reply
  29. Donna - July 15, 2020 4:31 pm

    Thanks for sharing loveliness. AND… for this LOL: “It’s very hot outside,” adds another man who talks just like me, and lives in my house. He is also deadly handsome.”

    Reply
  30. MAM - July 15, 2020 5:50 pm

    The eyes are leaking again! You always nail it! And hopefully, we will continue to worry about one another!

    Reply
  31. Tom - July 15, 2020 6:16 pm

    It’s plural, Bless all y’all.

    Reply
  32. Susan Ellzey - July 15, 2020 6:21 pm

    Amen…People really do care!

    Reply
  33. Beth Polk - July 15, 2020 6:43 pm

    Bet you could not kiss your elbow four months ago and still can’t.

    Great article regarding the kind human spirit that still exists…four months later.

    Reply
  34. Meredith Williams - July 15, 2020 8:17 pm

    I wish those who are rioting and looting and acting like ill behaved children, and those in politics, were required to read this over and over and over………

    Reply
  35. Linda Moon - July 15, 2020 8:20 pm

    I will re-read “Hotter Than Hades” again tomorrow and then post a new comment before I read tomorrow’s missive. Today, I’ve been very busy with Death and Taxes. Cancer Death is once again delayed with no penalty. Taxes, however, are not. Tax Deadline Death into Hades itself will arrive at midnight.

    Reply
  36. Meg Widmer - July 15, 2020 8:40 pm

    O.K. so here I am in tears, an old woman who is very active and still has her faculties…wondering if I would have taken up the offer for a ride on a hot day. Probably not. We were not raised to ‘depend’ on people. We were raised to take care of ourselves and, by golly, we will! :O) Nonetheless, I am happy that people banded together and persisted to the point that we know the old fellow was taken care of and protected from heat and God knows what else out there. Thanks for a beautiful, touching story which somehow reassures us that the human spirit of giving is still alive and well. God job…all who were involved..

    Reply
  37. Brian - July 15, 2020 9:38 pm

    Hear Hear Sean

    Reply
  38. Lynda Gayle Knight - July 15, 2020 9:47 pm

    You are absolutely right—that probably would not have happened four months ago! God usually turns some good out of something bad if we look for it is the strangest places❣️

    Reply
  39. Jess Rawls - July 15, 2020 10:56 pm

    Sean, I wasn’t totally sure who you were talking about when you wrote: ““It’s very hot outside,” adds another man who talks just like me, and lives in my house. He is also deadly handsome.” But the words “deadly handsome” told me all I needed to know about who was speaking. I’m glad “orange shirt” was able to finally give the older man a ride home. Good story.

    Reply
  40. Mary - July 16, 2020 12:03 am

    So heart warming. Good does so much than bad.Thank you!

    Reply
  41. earlywirgit - July 16, 2020 4:17 am

    When I read, “We don’t know this man from Adam’s mother-in-law”, it reminded me of my Mother, who always had a catchy expression that she was raised with in Dayton, TN. Her version of that would have been, “We don’t know this man from Adam’s off ox”. I miss her.

    Reply
  42. Linda Moon - July 16, 2020 4:14 pm

    I’d like to buy the world a Coke right now. Six people caring for an old man brought some harmonic love into his LIFE. God bless them every one, and you too, Sean, for telling us something good (as you often do!).

    Reply
  43. G Gibbs - July 17, 2020 4:20 am

    Sean, who are you? Eveything you write brings me to tears. Will you please run for President?

    Reply
  44. Melanie - July 18, 2020 11:39 am

    God Bless the South ❤️

    Reply
  45. Joyce J Mills - July 20, 2020 2:21 am

    Great story ***

    Reply

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