I walked up to him, a complete stranger, in the parking lot as he pulled out his knife. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
I realized about halfway into my drive to the airport that I hadn’t packed any dress socks. I arrived late enough that I just wanted to grab a quick bite to eat and then settle into my hotel room.
On the walk to the hotel’s front desk the next morning, my feet felt cool and free inside my stiff dress shoes. It was quite liberating. The cuffs of my pants bunched down over my shoes just enough to conceal my socklessness. I had a secret.
Sitting in the car, however, I could plainly see my bare ankles.
At the store to buy socks, I parked next to a man standing next to a pickup truck. He sported a salt-and-pepper ponytail and wore wrap-around sunglasses that hid the direction of his gaze. I ignored him and wondered how closely he watched while I secured my laptop bag in the trunk and went in the store.
Back out in the parking lot, socks in hand, I saw the man in the same spot. I sat in the driver’s seat, door still ajar, and quickly realized that because TSA doesn’t let passengers travel with handy things like keychain pocket knives, I had nothing to cut the confounding plastic filament that bound the socks together. It was so tight I couldn’t get my teeth around it to bite it off. Man living in the South, standing beside a pickup truck parked at Wal-Mart? Yep, it’s a guarantee.
I looked over at the man standing next to the truck. I stood. “Excuse me. You wouldn’t happen to have a pocketknife, would you?”
“You know what? I do,” he said.
He reached down below his waist, an area that the side of the truck concealed from my view, and then pulled up a blade about four inches long. It was slightly curved and part of it was serrated.
I approached the stranger wielding a knife and held out the socks. “See? I don’t really have anything to cut this.”
He reached out with the knife. “Here, why don’t you hold it,” I said. “I don’t want you to worry about cutting me.”
His calloused, sun-baked hands pulled the “T” at one end of the plastic filament to make room for the blade. “Well, I’m just worried I’m gonna cut your socks.”
A moment later he was successful, but that’s not really the point of this story.
While I was putting on my socks and shoes, driver door now wide open, the man struck up a conversation. It turns out he was born and raised in the area, but his son went to college at a small, distinguished, private university about 30 miles from where I grew up (and about 800 miles from that parking lot), and the same son went on to a Kentucky seminary that one of my best friends attended, in a tiny town I visited more than once. I didn’t ask how he started in a predominantly Church of Christ four-year college and ended up in a mostly Methodist seminary.
I tied my laces and looked at my watch. “Well, I better get going. Thanks again. Good talking to you,” I said.
“You, too. Have a safe trip.”
Thanks to his sunglasses, I never looked him in the eyes, but I think they would have been kind.