My oldest approached me the other day after he had burned several hours and gallons of gasoline with a cautious admission: “I think I met a grifter.”

I knew the day would come. Despite his quiet intelligence and undeniable beauty, the kid looks a little bit like a goober… like the kind of kid who gets his wallet lifted while he’s looking up at the tall buildings… the sort who gets sucked into an alleyway dice game… the type who just might be talked into buying the undercoat on a new car.

So I braced myself for the worst.

He said the guy approached him at a gas station asking for a ride. And while I’ve tried for many years to impart some of my hard-won street smarts upon my children, I somehow failed to teach this kid that the answer to that question is just about always, “No,” or sometimes a more harsh variation.

Before the guy got in the car, my kid said, he managed to procure two cold drinks from inside the store, though he professed to have no cash. And with a whisper, my son’s new friend convinced a third party inside the store to cover the gas for the car.

“Pretty solid,” I said. “Where’d you take him?”

“To the bus station,” he said.

“That’s it?”

“That’s it.”

We talked for a while about the poor choices he made, ran through the worst-case scenarios to which he exposed himself, isolated the points of decision that could have cut this thing short.

I hope it did some good.

But the thing about street smarts is that they are hard won, one lesson at a time, almost always with a price tag.

“You give him any money?” I asked my son.

“A little,” he said.

“I guess that’s okay,” I said. “The guy earned it.”

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