Boise bar owner Ted Challenger lives by the mantra that everyone has a story to tell. Those stories, unfortunately, are not always kind.
But as Challenger showed Wednesday, even strangers can find a way to make a sad tale of despair just a little more pleasant.
Challenger, who owns China Blue, The Tailgate, Amsterdam Lounge and Dirty Little Roddy’s in the Downtown Boise area, had just left his car in the parking lot behind China Blue. As he stepped into the street, he saw a tow truck and a woman sobbing nearby. On the street and the sidewalk were what appeared to be the woman’s belongings.
Challenger walked up to the men near the tow truck and discovered the woman was having her car towed because of about $450 in unpaid parking tickets.
Without any prior context, Challenger decided to step in.
“I walked over to the tow guy, and I said, ‘Why are you towing her?’ ” Challenger said. “It just didn’t sit well in my mind … that they would throw her and her possessions out on the curb. I (paid) it, and she was just very grateful, and then I just went to work.”
What Challenger didn’t know, however, was just how much of an impact he had made.
The car owner, who requested anonymity, is currently homeless. She told the Idaho Statesman she had been living in hotels with her boyfriend until recently, when she was forced to move into her car because of a shortage of rooms in the area tied to this weekend’s San Inazio Festival on the Basque Block in Downtown Boise.
She said her car was one of the last things she had to hold onto.
“Embarrassment fleeted across my face for a moment. Here I stand, a grown woman, in the road crying and shaking,” she told the Statesman. “I saw there were many people now watching.”
Having Challenger come to her aid gave her hope.
“My tears turned from terror to a new emotion that I can’t describe. Joy falls short; gratitude is only the surface scratched of what I felt,” she said. “To have this one thing, just one thing go right for a change made the bad stuff a little better and feel like it wasn’t all for nothing.”
Challenger’s tale hit the internet Thursday after Treasure Valley radio station Mix 106 posted a story about the good deed on its website. Mike Kasper, one of the hosts of Mix 106’s “Mix Morning Show with Mike and Nicole,” has known Challenger for more than 20 years. Kasper was doing research for the show when he came across a Facebook post by Boisean Jason Stephens. Stephens witnessed the incident from across the street and posted a picture of it to his personal Facebook page.
“I felt horrible … she was obviously in dire straits and needed help,” Stephens said. “(It was) empowering. He walked over there without hesitation. … Ted already had his mind made up before crossing the street.”
Despite what he assumed was Challenger’s wish for anonymity, Kasper believes the act of generosity deserves attention.
“It caught us off guard. … You don’t expect to see it everyday. But Ted does this kind of stuff all the time,” Kasper said. “He does stuff for people like this all the time. It’s cool that this one is coming to be publicized.”
Upon hearing of the tale, Nicole Hanks and Kasper said they were nearly moved to tears.
“We’ve all gone through a rough time ... our own storms,” Hanks said. “Somebody that we know did something to impact her life and really saved her. … It hit me, too.”
The car owner later posted a message on Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” section to thank Challenger for his good deed.
“For the past year, life has been one swift kick in the teeth after another, having lost my newborn son, my home and everything that I called familiar,” she wrote in part. “Thanks to you, today my smile can remain intact. Today, I can catch my breath. Today, you have given me the opportunity to not just survive. Today, my ever waivering faith in humanity has been restored. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, a million times over… thank you!”
Challenger initially thought he was just doing his duty to his fellow man by helping someone in distress. After learning about the woman’s story from the Craigslist posting and the effect he had made on her, and the subsequent media attention he has since received, Challenger remains stoic. He’s just happy the woman had something go right for a change.
“I didn’t realize the impact, the depths of it. That she had had such a bad run of luck,” Challenger said. “That might have been the nail in the coffin.”
All Challenger asked for in return from the woman was that she pay it forward.
“I guess I’m just really fortunate. I have everything I need. … If you saw the torment on her face, I don’t know how anyone would walk away,” he said. “This is how it should be, right? I try to do good everywhere I can.”