Order “13”

Today was my golf day and that means breakfast beforehand with my brother-in-law, Keith. I was running ahead of schedule today so I went to breakfast early. When I got to a Whataburger near the golf course, it was 8:30a and 29 degrees. (Wind Chill 20 deg) I was 15 minutes early. I was cold and hungry.

The restaurant was mostly filled with regulars and they seemed to greet one another by name. Amongst the booths in the corner a man “sleeping”. I say “sleeping” because he was pretending to sleep so no one would harass him. He looked like he might have been there all night, just trying to find someplace to stay warm. It was pretty obvious from his tattered clothes that staying warm wasn’t always an easy thing to do. I don’t want to say he was “homeless”, he may or may not be. But, at least last night, he had slept in that booth at Whataburger.

I placed my order and sat down not far from the man, waiting for my breakfast. I put the little plastic number “22” sign on my table so they would know where to bring my breakfast. I looked around a little and knew that everyone there had seen the man. I guess everyone accepted this as normal or, in any case, tolerable. Five minutes passed. At that point I was neither cold nor hungry. I felt guilty and empty and ashamed. I went back to the counter and placed another order. This time, I took the little plastic number “13” and placed it on the table of his booth. I went back to my seat and waited for my breakfast.

The lady brought order “22” to my table just before Keith arrived. He joined me at the table with his plastic number and a cup of coffee. A few minutes later the lady brought out order “13”. She looked around for someone with “13”. Then she saw the man in the booth. She looked around again. I can only imagine what’s going through her mind, but I can say with certainty that she didn’t believe he was order “13”. She went back through the aisles looking for another order “13”. She came within 20 feet of our table and I caught her attention. I motioned to her that “13” was for the man in the booth.

She placed the order on the table and tried to wake the “sleeping” man. He seemed pretty good at acting as if he were asleep, but she persisted and he finally sat up. She asked him if he was order “13” and he said he wasn’t. At that point she had seen enough, I guess. She left order “13” with the man and returned to the counter.

A few more minutes passed. Keith and I were well into our golf braggadocio and bravado. The man decided that order “13” looked OK to him and he ate it with a cup of coffee.

As we got up to leave, the man gave me a little wave. I guess he had seen me walk up to his booth to leave the plastic number “13” for him. I just smiled and nodded. Keith and I left for the golf course.

I can’t say with any certainty how much of this exchange was noticed by anyone and I really don’t care. For months or so ago was September 11th. We all grew closer as a nation and thought we cared more about one another. I don’t know if I would have bought breakfast for the man at Whataburger before September 11th. I would like to think that I would have, but I honestly don’t think so.

So today, like a lot of days, I have come face to face with the fact that my life has changed. I’m not ever going to be the person I was before September 11th. Sometime I feel really guilty for thinking it, but I have come through this a better person. I wish there had been any other reason to change me, but this is the way it happened and I am forever changed. I’m not a “good” person. I’m not a saint or even a good samaritan. But I am a better person. And that’s a start.

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