Arriving in Style

I spoke in Charlottesville, Virginia, a few years ago, checking into a hotel about two hours before my speaking engagement. Since I needed to be at the engagement by 6:30 and it was a 15-minute ride, I requested a cab for 5:30, allowing myself plenty of time.

After freshening up, I returned to the lobby. No cab.

The hotel clerk told me that the cab would arrive at 6:00. I was a little anxious by this time and started pacing. Six o’clock came and the cab did not. I was getting desperate.

I asked the clerk if I could hire one of the staff to take me. He said, “The van just left for the airport and there is no one here now but me.”

I looked up and down the hall to find anyone I could grab and plead for a ride. No one.

Then the young man behind the desk—clearly a problem-solver—simply handed over his keys and said, “Take my car. I won’t be going anyplace until 11:00.” 

I said, “Are you serious?  You don’t know anything about me.”  

He said, “You need a ride, and I have a car—take it!”  Then he told me the model of the car—a rather old Mazda. He said, “Now the radio is on loud, so you’ll want to turn it off.”             

I ran to the parking lot. When I found the car, I also found he had the seat so far back I could almost lie down as I drove. I practically vibrated to the loud sound of rap music as I drove out of the parking lot. I didn’t even bother trying to lower the volume as I sped off. Well, as much as you can speed off in a 1979 Mazda. You might say I “ambled” off. I made it to my speaking engagement with less than five minutes to spare.

When I got back to the hotel at 10:00, the young man did not want any money, although I insisted on a nice tip. What he was most interested in was how well my speech went. And I told him it went great because of him.

I probably learned more than my audience did that night because of this young man. He taught me the value of helping someone in need, without reservations. I could tell for him this was no big deal. A man needed a ride and he supplied it. I hope I, too, can be that spontaneously responsive to those with unusual needs.

Getting to Know Keith

On our way to church one beautiful spring morning, a young man was sitting by an intersection with his cardboard sign asking for money. As we waited for the light to change, I motioned him over to the car and gave him some money. I have a routine I follow under these conditions: I smile, hand the person money, shake his hand, ask his name, and ask what he plans to do with the money. I usually then ask, “Where do you live?” 

This man’s response was “Here and there.”  Any money he received he said he was going to use to get back on his feet.

Then this young man, Keith, took over the conversation. He elaborated, “I lost my license, and then I lost my job. But I know things are going to get better.”

As I started to drive away, I wished him luck and then he responded with a statement that will stay with me a long time. He said, “Well, you have to go to hell before you can make it to heaven.” 

Some of the most poignant thoughts will come from the people you least expect, whether or not you agree with them. You simply have to start a conversation to find out.