In Dire Straits

by John Nieman
Victoria, Australia

Some years ago the British band Dire Straights was coming to Melbourne and it would sell out early. I arranged to take a few hours off work the morning the bookings opened, and queued up very early at the ticket outlet in a neighbouring suburb.

In Dire StraitsI ended up at the window behind a little, elderly bird-like woman. I must say I’d seen her before around our rather run-down suburb. You know the sort of suburb, in transition from slum to yuppiedom where the new chums bolted our doors and had security alarms and the older residents kept to themselves.

She’d arrived with a pocket full of cash to buy tickets for her working kids and their mates who couldn’t leave work to buy tickets. When the tickets were passed to the lady she looked dismayed; she was about twenty-odd dollars short in the total. This was a disaster: by the time she went and got  more money tickets would be sold out. Or she could buy one less ticket and someone would miss out. “Birdie”, as she had become in my mind, obviously didn’t have a credit card.

I normally let people sort themselves out, but I jumped in and said to the ticket clerk “I’ll loan the lady the money”. Birdie protested, “Oh you can’t, you don’t know me.” I replied, “But we’re neighbours, we live in Richmond and I’m sure you’ll pay me back”.

She acquiesced with many thanks, taking of addresses and promises to return the money. But now I was about $1.50 light in cash of the amount Birdie needed. I asked the clerk “Can I add the money to my card purchase?”

She replied, “No Sir, our system can’t cope with that,” disappeared below the counter, and came back clutching her purse. She wordlessly extracted $2, adding it to the total went.

As the tickets were expensive the twenty wasn’t a big deal. But I was really impressed with the clerk who had made an outside the square decision and solved the problem. Three people were having a better day by bending the social rules about strangers.

That evening there was a knock on our door. Birdie, with a bunch of very large working type family members and their mates, had the money for me, with a lottery ticket in thanks.

Birdie explained that she’d already gone back during the day, a return walk of some two miles for an 80-year-old, and paid the clerk her $2. Her working grandkids, as it turned out, and their mates wanted to thank me personally.

From that day on we newchums had old locals in the street talk to us whenever we met — it seemed Birdie was a bit of a local character. It wasn’t long before we felt we belonged.

My takeaway lesson was, to not to be closed and to take a chance — you never know what friendships will result. The lottery ticket didn’t win but I sure did.

Originally published as HeroicStories #760 on Jan 9, 2009

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