I work in a building near the Navy Yard. If you don't know where that is, I work in a building near the new Nationals stadium. It's a weird mix of new buildings, construction, open lots, jagged partial toothy rows of remaining rowhouses, one CVS, and very few places to eat lunch. It's an area "in transition," divided from Capitol Hill proper by 295 south and just a few barren blocks where the old public housing was razed a couple of years ago. Baseball fans from the 'burbs park their cars across the street from a mixed block of rowhouses: some are renovated and for sale; others have bare-dirt, junk-strewn yards. You wonder what's going to happen to these houses and the people who live in them.
Yesterday evening, I was hiking from my office back towards the Hill when a voice behind me said, "Excuse me, ma'am, do you have the time?" I looked back and saw a black man and a young woman walking behind me. They looked somehow threadbare, the man a little too thin, their clothes a little unkempt. I answered that it had been about 6:20 when I left my office a few minutes ago, and started to walk briskly again.
"I'm sorry to bother you again, but do you know how far it is to Second and D Street NW? How long will it take us to walk there?" I stopped. We were at the corner of 3rd and K SE. It's a hike from there to Second and D NW. I told the guy as much, and tried to give him directions. I noticed that the young woman was younger than I had thought, probably a teenager, and her breath wheezed terribly. She was wearing a red hooded sweat suit and carrying a brightly-colored backpack. She didn't look like she could walk all that way. The man said to her, "OK, you just got to hold onto my arm for awhile longer." And she took him arm, her stare remaining fixed and downcast, her breath rasping.
"We're just trying to get to the shelter there. Her school bus dropped her off over here, cause I work by the Navy Yard, and she can't go to her mama's and we don't have no place to go. She's handicapped, and she got a bus pass, but I don't know what bus to take, and we found out her pass only work for the bus, not the train. You know how much the bus fare is? I got 70 cents." He showed me the young woman's laminated bus pass, hung on a lanyard around his neck. It did have her photo on it, and indicated she was disabled.
I started to give them directions on how to get to the D6 bus, which would take them right to the shelter. I fumbled in my purse, and recalled that I truly had no money left in my wallet - only pennies. Damn, if this was a story or a setup, they were awfully good actors. The girl's breathing was kind of alarming. I was going to give this guy bus fare if I could. Then I remembered I had a bunch of old Metro farecards in my backpack. I'd gotten them at an old job, and never used them. I found the farecards, and handed the guy two of them. "Here. These won't work on the bus, but you can use them on the subway. It'll be a lot easier for you to get there on the subway."
The guy's face lit up, and he smiled. "Thank you, thank you! You get home safe now." They turned and walked off, the girl holding onto his arm. eyes downcast. I watched them for a bit, and as far as I could see, they were walking right towards the Navy Yard Metro station.
Did I do a good thing? The right thing? I don't know. They didn't ask me for money, and I won't ever know what the real story is (unless, of course, I see them again today and get the same line - ha! Am I jaded.). I guess they could try to sell the farecards if they wanted to, but I hope they'll just use them to get wherever they think they need to go.