The pay it forward umbrella

I can’t remember the last time I bought an umbrella. Actually, to that point, I can’t remember if I’ve ever bought an umbrella. I never really needed one when I lived up in Timonium — seemed silly when all you really needed was a quick dash to get from your car to the store, or your apartment, or whatever. And then when I moved to DC I had the “lost and found” bin at Borders. It contained tons of umbrellas. If it was raining out the staff would just grab unclaimed umbrellas once the doors were locked. We’d never take the nice, noticeable ones. “Oh, no, this umbrella with the carved ivory handle is totally mine.” Don’t think of it as stealing – think of it as paying it forward.

After a few years I’d built up quite a stockpile. But then Borders closed. And slowly, one by one, the umbrellas started disappearing: my own contribution to paying it forward. I was walking home from the store one day when it began to rain. I had heavy bags in both hands. I stopped long enough to hand the umbrella I had with me to a pregnant woman with no covering. I lost another just a few weeks ago at Farragut Square.

I was down to my last “pay it forward” umbrella this morning, although I have a couple of big golf umbrellas in my closet. For obvious reasons, I kinda hate these things. They’re like a deadly wheel of death showering pain and water onto my unsuspecting fellow pedestrians.

So, my last “pay it forward” umbrella. It’s one of those really small umbrellas. It’s also broken. It’s not very effective. It kept most of the rain off me, so I guess that was good. I think one of its spokes put a hole in my khakis today, so I was tempted to shove the damn thing into a trashcan at some point.

Anyway, I was a little delayed heading out of work today, so I missed the low-occupancy L1. That’s a relative term, anyway. It’s usually pretty crowded. This one was pretty crowded and wet.

I have a love/hate thing with the L1. It’s usually the fastest bus route home, but with rush hour traffic, it’s almost not that much longer walking. And it’s crowded. I honestly prefer the L2. For people who know about Metrobus, this is where they interject, “But you have to go through the circle!” Meaning Dupont. But I like that because it gives me more reading time. And besides, once you’re past Dupont, it goes much faster. Anyway: walking is my preferred mode of transportation. But not in a thunderstorm. In any case, given the volume of rain, I decided to just jump the bus.

So I did. It took about forty minutes to get from Dupont to Woodley Park. I was standing for much of the time, back by the exit (where the auto announcement instructs NOT to stand, but I didn’t have much choice). The woman on the seat behind me was having a conversation. She mentioned her shoes were going to get ruined because she didn’t have an umbrella, and they were suede. I’m not sure I even know what suede is. Anyway, I offered her my umbrella. She didn’t want it, but I insisted, and she eventually took it.

I don’t know if it kept her shoes dry. I hope it did that. I have the half horrified notion that it gave up the ghost halfway to her destination and she’s standing somewhere holding her ruined shoes muttering about how if she ever sees me on the bus again …

One thought on “The pay it forward umbrella

  1. A few years ago, my friend and I were in NYC after a concert, walking from Madison Square Garden to Grand Central to catch our train home. It was late and it was pouring rain so there were no cabs. This guy saw us walking in the cold rain (it was the end of October) and he insisted that he buy us an umbrella from one of those street vendors so we wouldn’t get even wetter and cold then we already were.

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