I decided to write a short piece about giving a guy a couple of bucks outside a fast food joint . I was inspired , again , by a recent post over at No Facilities , about giving cash to the homeless .
I was telling a story to my friend Phil , just yesterday or the day before , about an old friend of mine from way back , Fred Kail , who was an old man even then . We cleaned student apartments together and got to be buddies . There was one incident at the airport ( don’t recall why we were there ; probably a friend of his or mine was arriving ) and a young woman approached asking for money . Seems to me she was a Hari Krishna , or a Moonie , but that may be a memory revision of mine . Anyway , Fred reached into his wallet and pulled out a five dollar bill . Against my protest ( my policy is never to invest in cults ) Fred handed her the fiver . She took it and said , ” Most people give ten . ” As drunken Freddy says in the John Huston movie The Dead , based on a James Joyce story : ( thick Irish brogue ) : ” Do you believe that , now ? ”
To his credit , Fred instantly grabbed his $ 5 back from her and told the greedy beggar : ” I’m not most people , young lady . ”
And he wasn’t , old Fred ; he wasn’t most people . I’ve considered writing about Fred Kail from time to time , but I don’t think I could do my old buddy justice in mere words , so I have chickened out several times on writing about him .Eventually he moved out to “God’s Country” with a new girlfriend he’d met and was gone . I was never really sure where God’s country was , I’m sorry to say , and I lost track of him . By then Fred was probably ninety . Now , he’s probably floating around with little wings and a harp in another God’s country , I suppose . No doubt he’s still speaking up for the working man and holding his head high , complimenting Saint Peter’s wife on some piece of jewelry she is wearing . ” Women go to a special trouble in choosing a particular broach or necklace to wear , ” Fred instructed me once , ” and they appreciate a compliment about it “. . Didn’t matter to him if it was a waitress or our crusty old boss Mrs. K , Fred handed out his compliments to make someone’s day .
But , this is not a post about Fred Kail . Somehow I often seem to wander off the beaten track. You know : meandering . I guess my short attention span is getting shorter . I’m trying to keep up with the national average on that , however . So , it’s all good . I’m waiting for that average American’s attention span to slip into negative numbers .Won’t be too many years from now , I think . Then what ? Perhaps you , too , should prepare . But I’ll leave that up to you .
So , I was driving back down to L.A. from Portland , Oregon , recently , and I decided to get a coffee . I was somewhere just past Medford and the pickings were thin . It was just before going over the pass into California . But I spotted a fast food place and that would be good enough to get a coffee . I had to wind around a curved little road after I left the Freeway to get to the place , but that was okay , too . I went in and ordered my coffee . ” I’ll make you a fresh pot ,” the middle-aged woman told me , like she was doing me a big favor . I think I woke her up or startled her a bit . A customer ! And she set about brewing the coffee . ” It’ll be just a sec ,” she said .
A “sec” in that part of Oregon , evidently , stretches on and on . After awhile I went outside the place to enjoy the morning air . If I were a smoker it would have been a cigarette break . Smoke ’em if you got ’em . Light up another ; we’re not going noplace soon .
I’m used to fast food ( in this instance coffee only ) being fast . I thought that that’s the whole idea . People don’t go to fast food joints for the gourmet dining experience , despite the slick corporate advertising . eg:” Ah ! You should try their bacon and fish combo with black pepper curly fries. Exquiseet ! ” No . No.
While I was out there in no man’s land wondering when the coffee would finally be done , a ragged old guy walked up . He had come out of nowhere . Probably he was camped out under a nearby tree line . He walked up nonchalantly , as if he were merely out for a morning walk in the neighborhood . But , you have to picture this place . No neighborhood . The isolated fast food structure was in a little ravine . There were a few rolling hills in the area , mostly bare of much vegetation . Pined- mountains on the horizon . A little cluster of trees not too far away . I was pretty sure I’d find this guy’s cardboard or tarp lean-to under there if I looked .
I wasn’t going to look , though , just because I had the time to do that , apparently , before the medium cup of coffee would be ready . By the way , the woman gave me the senior’s price , which saved me a dollar or two . She didn’t have the tact to ask if I were a senior — just pegged me as one without question , and applied the senior discount . I’m beyond , at this point , being irked by that kind of a thing. I’m beyond caring , likewise , when the drug store clerks ask me for ID before they sell me my six pack of beer . Policy gets you coming and going . It’s all corporate controlled nowadays , I realize . The store cashier is just following orders . Fred Kail would have , perhaps , said something about it ; maybe would have urged the clerks to rise up and resist . But those days are pretty much over, I’m afraid . We just go along to get along .
I waited fifteen or twenty minutes for my medium cup of coffee with no complaint . I twisted the delay around in my mind a bit , though . I considered bailing on the coffee ; but I knew , then , I’d have to wait for Yreka , or Weed , to eventully get my java fix . I weighed it all at least a couple of times in my head . And , as it happened , I decided to wait .
” I’m trying to get my coffee ” the ragged man told me , as if trying to make small talk . Just a couple of guys out for a morning stroll . It came down to money , though , of course . I gave him a couple of bucks , and he went right on in to the place and walked up to the counter . He was a dollar or so short of the price for the breakfast burrito and coffee . I was inside again , too , at this point , still waiting for my coffee . The guy was negotiating with the woman . I didn’t hear her offer him the senior discount . He out-seniored me by a bit , though . Finally a kid who worked back there in the kitchen came up with a dollar of his own to hand to the guy and we were in business . The coffee was done , too ! , and the world was , again , an exciting place to be .
The coffee tasted like peach pits that had been marinated in kerosine and flavored with moldy potatoes . But still —-I had the senior discount and I was on my way back to the freeway .. I was afraid that if I had ordered food there I might wind up like that ragged old guy , sleeping under the trees under a dirty tarp and dependent on begging for breakfast burritos in the middle of nowhere because the purpose of life had mysteriously vanished . Or , perhaps I exaggerate .
By the way , the ragged guy seemed happy enough to get my two dollars despite the fact that he surely knew he’d need a dollar or two more to get his food . It wasn’t like there was a big crowd of suckers to beg the money from . I was it . He and I were comrades , in a way , I understood . He didn’t have to wait for his coffee , though . He happened along right at the right moment when the coffee was finally done . He got it fast , just like all was right with the world ; just like fast food was exactly what it was meant to be .
I could see a smile on his face , I think , that ragged old man . The woman behind the counter smiled , too , her ( perhaps ) corporate -ordered smile . I tried a smile , too , although it was a bit forced .
All was right with the world ! (More or less , anyhow ).