Brian Steel

Copyright © 2003 Brian Steel

A skinny, scruffy old man on crutches, with one leg a good twelve inches shorter than the other, is blocking the inside lane outside the pub at the busy Nepean Highway intersection with Glenhuntly Rd.

I carefully drive round him and stop at the red light. Another car pulls up in the outside lane. The old man hops awkwardly out on his short leg and asks the other driver something - obviously a beggar. I decide to give him a coin when my turn comes and wind down my window as the other driver gesticulates but offers nothing. The man hops back to the pavement side of my car, the lights are finally changing in our favour! He taps on the window and asks me for a lift up the road a few hundred yards.

He only wants a lift up Orrong Road to a café. It could be a trick! OK, Hop in. Easier said than done on crutches and with his physical disability. Our lane misses out on the lights as I wait for him to get into the passenger seat. Drivers behind me are getting impatient! His breath smells of beer. I am apprehensive of having picked up a drunk, but as I ask him about himself, Alec's manner reassures me. He is merely following his daily routine: a bus from home in nearby Hotham St. at 10 a.m.. A beer in the pub, perhaps two at most. Then he "hails a motorist" [a very formal phrase] to go to the café up the road for a pot of tea and a warm snack for $3. Then to MacDonalds to read papers, then he "hails a motorist again" to get back to Hotham St. by 6-ish. Quite a day.

Alec, by the way, turns out to be an astonishing 87 years old. He misses his Mum's cooking - a touching confidence. He supposes all children do. Remembering my own Mum's culinary problems and battles, I venture to suggest that maybe not quite all.

I feel very good about the meeting as he slowly alights and we wish each other all sorts of luck.

Alec has taught me several things. Whether I take any notice is a different matter!

1. Don't be so suspicious (but be careful).

2. For a better lesson in initiative and mobility in adversity you'd have to go a long way. Another person in his position would just sit at home and mope all day.


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