Renee and I recently moved to the West Side of Grand Rapids, MI.
We traded a top floor condo with a view of the river for a bottom floor apartment with a view of the underside of highway 196.
This is not the nicest place we’ve ever lived, but it is one of the least expensive and we're digging it.
One of our new neighbors, "Al the Pal," lives in a parking spot down the street and his makeshift bike trailer provides his shelter.
While his appearance is rather disheveled, his smile is contagious and his rosy outlook is admirable.
Al recently offered to mow our lawn for $5, which seemed like a great deal until we noticed that the lawnmower our landlord kept in the shed was missing.
I called my landlord and said, "I've got bad news, good news, and really bad news. Your lawnmower is missing. I think I know who has it, but It's a homeless guy who's now using it to earn a living."
After reviewing a litany of terrible options, I decided to respectfully confront Al the Pal.
"Excuse me, Mr. Pal… You in there?" I asked from outside his bike trailer.
When he emerged, I followed a cordial greeting with, "a red push mower, similar to the one chained to your trailer, is missing from our shed. If that's it, you are welcome to use it. Just make sure you return it when you're finished."
This approach initially struck me as way too passive. I wanted to just call the cops and bring him to justice. After all, it wasn't just the lawn mower chained to his trailer. There were also five bicycles.
I'm pretty sure the only way Al the Pal could acquire such a collection of bicycles, lawnmowers and other treasures is if he was actually Al the Criminal, and his contagious smile was masking a bad habit of collecting loose stuff from around the neighborhood.
Fortunately, my wife is a better person than I. She encouraged me to give him the benefit of the doubt. To approach him as a neighbor first. To treat him with dignity, respect, and to give him a path to redemption even if he did take the lawnmower.
Thank God for her. Because when I confronted Al the Pal, I learned that this was not the red push mower from our shed. He explained the history and origin of the lawnmower and each bicycle. He had acquired his collection of treasures through legitimate means, and our lawnmower was stolen by some other schmuck.
Shew. That was close. Had I gone with my initial instinct and called the cops, Al's life would have likely changed for the worse.
Instead, I still get to enjoy Al the Pal's contagious smile and rosy outlook.
And to anybody living on The West Side (AKA - The Best Side), Al the Pal is available for lawn mowing services starting at only $5.