After two and a half hours in the guest ‘lounge’ of the dealership, I decided to go to McDonald’s for lunch. There I met Peter; he was having an animated discussion with a McDonald’s employee about Gumbo recipes. I picked up that Peter was from a certain area of Alabama which supposedly lent authenticity and exemplary credentials to his recipe. His emphasis on fresh quality ingredients, careful from-scratch preparation, and specific but not-your-usual gumbo seafood got me to thinking. So, I butted in…
“You need to find yourself an investor, and open a restaurant.”
Turns out, Peter has a dream to do just that. Peter is a contractor and was making notes, I assume, for a current or future job. But we talked while he made notes and agreed on the need for more restaurants that utilize local, in-season produce and locally-raised and, preferably organic, meats, eggs, etc. We agreed that smaller was better, excellent customer service was essential, and that the menu offerings should be small in count and different from one day to the next. We shook our heads and groaned over Chilean-raised fruits and vegetables, canned greens, and over-cooked green beans. We agreed on everything, item by item..
After a while, we began to discuss specifics, like location and personnel. He offered me the job of cashier but agreed that for me to drive from Anderson to Greer or Greenville would be too much to expect. I suggested he open the place in Anderson. And that’s when the discussion shifted.
“There are too many red-necks in Anderson,” he said. “A lot of people around there don’t like black people.” I knew that for a fact, so I didn’t argue. But I did add, “You’ll need to find a location where anyone would not be afraid to go,” thinking of some of the seedier neighborhoods I have wandered through. He already had a place picked out. There was currently a restaurant there but the owner was not motivated to stay open more than a few hours…a good location, he said, and added that most of the customers were white people.
Thinking ahead, I asked, “Do you know how to write-up a business plan?” “My wife is brilliant,” he exclaimed, implying it would be an easy task for her. We swapped contact information and I headed back to the dealership.
The service manager, Lauren (an angel sent from God), informed me that the repair would take more than one day, that I would need to get a rental car that requires a credit card and deposit, and by the way, there was $100 deductible that had not been mentioned before.
All the money I had to my name was in a plastic zip lock bag in my pocketbook, and I had just spent half of that on a “Daily Double” (no drink) at MacDonald’s. I told Lauren I had to go think (read: pray and make phone calls for help.) I went back to the ‘lounge,’ and apologized to the only other person there that my phone conversations may make her uncomfortable. I called my brother; no answer. I called my son; no answer. I called my daughter. “What’s up?” We started brainstorming. We knew she had a small amount of credit on her department store card, which was in my pocket, but I needed to reserve that for gas. She asked, “Will they take a card number over the phone?” I went out to ask Lauren.
They could take the number for the deductible but I need to be able to swipe a card for the $50 deposit on the rental car. My daughter knew she was over-drawn at the bank but wasn’t sure by how much. She would be getting a bonus, which would be deposited, today. Would that put her in the ‘black?’ She checked her balance. I heard her take in her breath…
“I’m not over-drawn,” Sarah exclaimed. “Somehow, my balance is at 0. I should have my full bonus, tomorrow!” Giddy, we both thanked Jesus. That would cover the deductible. Then Lauren got to work. Somehow, she made arrangements where the dealership would handle the rental car. Again, thank you, Jesus.
The woman in the ‘lounge,’ who had witnessed all of this, was open to talk about temporary hard times that all people go through. We shared how embarrassing it is to have to back-out your grocery purchases to match your debit card balance. We talked about how hard it is to ask for help, especially to ask strangers. Eventually, we drifted to the subject of the homeless. Her husband works for a government entity and he often has to roust-out the homeless from public places, even though, she asserted, they have a legal right to be there. She then said what I did not want to hear…
“Those homeless people are that way because they want to be.”
I just took a breath and let her continue. I inserted that I’ve always wondered about the legitimacy of their need, myself. I’ve looked at scruffy-looking people holding cardboard signs, standing or crouching off the exit to the mall, and wondered, “Where do they get the black sharpie?” We discussed the needy and also the fraud. I have been tricked before and so had she. Then, I related my recent experience of nearly running out of gas, asking for help, and being told, “no.” I told her how I had reflected on what it is like to live this way all the time, from day to day, everyday, ‘sleeping’ in your car or under bridges, that there is no dignity in being poor, and why do people get mad at you when you are poor?
She softened and admitted to not responding to people who are rude or out of sorts because, “You don’t know where they are coming from or what they have been through.” She added that some of her reluctance to yell or be rude back is from fear of what they are capable of doing, but she agreed that sometimes you just don’t know the circumstances. We agreed that what we do for seemingly-needy people is between us and God and that what those people do with what we give them, is between Them and God. Then, she was called away by a service technician.
At this point I was talked-out, but my day was not done.
Gradually, a few more people drifted into the ‘lounge.’ A young man across from me was moving his cell phone around which manipulated the ‘view’ of Mars as recorded from a lander. This drew the attention of an older man from the other end of the room. I think he said his name was Aaron and he was 75 years old. We shared our amazement (still working on my vocabulary) at how much technology had changed just in our lifetimes and wondered with the young man, how much it will change during his lifetime. (I pointed out that the devices currently out in space recording images of comets, galaxies, and distant planets were launched decades ago; how did those scientists, back then, know how to produce devices that move, record, and send back complex and useful information to us, now? How did they anticipate what would be needed?)
Aaron and I spent an hour or so, watched closely by the young man, talking about how smart people are and God and the Bible. I think I got him to see that global-warming and God’s omnipotence are not mutually-exclusive; God may be influencing weather and that His allowing man to pollute his own world may be how He is doing it.
Aaron had grown up “just up the road,” and his family never thought he “would amount to much.” He started working at “the bleachery” when he was 16. He had dropped out of school in the 8th grade but moved up through positions of responsibility at the mill until he was near the top. When that facility closed, he was offered a management position at another plant. But when it was revealed that he did not have a college degree, the company said they legally could not hire him. He didn’t seem to bear a grudge against the company and went on to point out that, in spite of that, he had shown his family that he had, in fact, “made something of himself.” He quoted scripture about God spreading a table before his enemies, indicating that his accomplishments were ‘out there’ for everyone to see. We grinned and agreed,”To God be the Glory.”
Several times throughout his stories, and there were many more than I have related, Aaron had to pause to compose himself; he often seemed choked up, red-faced, and close to tears. Eventually, Aaron was called away by a technician.
I was exhausted, as I am sure you are, and sat back to close my eyes, empty my mind, and just breathe, for a while.
Several moments later, Aaron re-entered the room and sidled up to me and put out his hand. I took it and he confided,
I had an accident once and they were going to take everything I had…everything I had earned, built, and worked for. I was scared (again, the tears and choking-up) and prayed to God for help. Do you know, the insurance company paid for everything and the judge removed everything from my record?!
And then he added…
What do people do, who don’t have Jesus?