A weekend visit to the fast-food eatery leads to fretting over the circumstances of a seemingly homeless person
By George Valadie
I love weekends, especially when our Friday night games have gone well and all the students have made it home safely.
After these many years, with our girls now living out of town, Nancy and I have finally established a Saturday – Sunday routine that we enjoy. I mean there’s no excitement in it; we might as well watch our clothes wash.
I wake up to “feed-the-dogs” duty but we take turns braving the weather for our 99-cent 32-ounce Diet Cokes. While one is at the drive-thru, the other makes the bed and lights the broiler for our real weekend treats – a bagel for each. (Envy is not pretty if you’re feeling any.)
We’re addicted (what can I say) to the soft drinks and the boredom.
A few weeks ago, we decided to go crazy. We tried breakfast at Krystal. Don’t mistake that for “we had breakfast with crystal.” No, I’m talking about we had eggs and bacon at THE Krystal — of square burger fame.
As we drove into the parking lot, I noticed a man sitting on the street curb out front.
We came because we had seen an advertisement for the “Big Breakfast Bargain” or some such thing. We ordered one each, then grabbed our plastic utensils and plastic seats. But it was the man on the curb who held my attention.
First from the angle in my car and now 99 percent confirmed from my viewpoint in the restaurant, I could tell he had no legs. But more troublesome was the fact that I couldn’t see where he had any crutches either.
They really do have a great deal there. Two eggs any style, bacon or sausage, grits or crispers, biscuit or toast – all for less than $3. I mean that’s hard to beat.
Follow that bouncing ball of thought and you’ll see how much I cared — more for my eggs than the guy on the curb.
While enjoying our better-than-a-bagel breakfast, we finally did begin to discuss how or why this poor man might have gotten there.
After all, it seemed like such an odd place for anyone to choose to be sitting. I really wanted to hope he was waiting on a bus, but even that seemed like a stretch.
I don’t ride public transit, but 8:30 on a Saturday morning didn’t seem like a normal bus-route time – at least not to me. There was no bus stop sign to be seen and obviously no bench either. And even if it were a pause along the path, how was this man going to get up and aboard?
I don’t like to stare but I did. From where we sat inside, his clothes appeared disheveled and dirty. His face was unshaven. He was wearing an old army jacket of sorts, but it didn’t seem nearly heavy enough to fight off the cold of that particular morning. In short, he was a mess. And he was in a mess.
Glimpsing around at the eatery’s various patrons, each sipping at their hot coffee, none seemed even mildly interested in this man who was right outside our warmth.
As usually happens when we come across any such distraught person, Nancy and I discussed the horribleness of homelessness. There’s never a good time to exist that way, but especially in a stretch of weather like we’d been having.
We pondered the circumstances of his life that had delivered him to his current state – legless, crutchless, homeless.
After we had cleaned our plates and re-filled our Diet Cokes for free, we sat back to relax and soak in the peace of the weekend.
Not typical for the usual Krystals we frequent, this store’s manager was making her rounds, chatting with the regulars on her shift, disposing of their trash, and checking to see if their food had been what they had hoped.
I just had to ask.
“Can you tell me what you know about that man out there? He looks like he’s in pretty bad shape. Do you know if he’s had anything to eat?”
Her reply was as warming as her smile: “That guy? He’s just waiting to catch the bus.” And as if on cue, one pulled right up. I whipped my head around because I just had to watch whatever would happen next.
But like a grandpa having played with his grandkids on the floor, he stood up, unfolded his legs from beneath him, stretched his lanky frame and walked right on just like you or me. Turns out my eyesight was in far worse shape than he was.
“Yeah, he was in here earlier, asked if this was a bus stop and had a cup of coffee.”
Nancy and I both laughed and were relieved. Though not sure, we felt better that his life couldn’t be nearly as miserable as we had imagined.
But here’s the thing.
We had fretted over him. We had lamented his circumstance. We had worried and asked about him.
But we had done nothing. We moved not a muscle to help a man we were sure had no legs and no home.
Turns out he did, but we didn’t know it. We didn’t buy him a “Big Breakfast Bargain” or share ours. I didn’t offer him coffee, the extra pair of gloves in my car, nor did I even offer the man a hand.
Let’s be honest, not too many of us can really “harbor the harborless,” but we can darn sure do better than that.
Dear God – Some need us to care and some need us to help. Please help us know the difference. Amen. ■
George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.