“Excuse me sir, can I use your phone?”

It was already very dark as I finished putting the last of my groceries into the car. It wasn’t raining at the moment, but the parking lot was soaked with the on-again-off-again showers we’d had all day. The last thing I expected was a young man to come up to me and say, “Excuse me sir, can I use your phone?”

“What would you like to use it for?” I replied, wildly unsure of what the proper response was to a stranger asking for my cell phone at night in a parking lot.

“I need to make a phone call.”

Now I had a few options here. I could say I’m sorry I can’t help you, but that’s not being very kind if this teenager is actually stranded or in trouble. I could had him my phone, but if he took off with it between the wet pavement and my Birkenstocks I’d be the loser of that foot race. So I found an odd, but acceptable medium.

I put in the number for him (making sure it wasn’t a 1–800 or an international call), and put it on speaker phone. That way he could make his phone call, I wouldn’t be implicated in anything illegal if he was trying to get a hold of his dealer or something sketchy, and I wouldn’t have to watch anyone run away with my iPhone.

Turns out the poor kid’s phone didn’t have reception, and his sister was at the wrong parking lot. I’m so glad that I didn’t take one look at an odd situation and do what I knew was easiest and safest. Even though I stood head and shoulders above this cold and tired teenager (being six and a half feet tall) I still felt nervous about the stranger in the dark. Turns out it is really hard to tell the difference between real danger and a kid that just needs a ride.

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