My son’s dream at the ripe old age of thirteen was to see Michael Jordan play basketball. So, for his birthday, I used money I didn’t have to buy two Wizards tickets that would put us on the floor.
On the day of the game, we arrived a few hours early because we had a two hour drive to D.C. and I’m a freak about time. We pulled into a metered parking spot in front of a Burger King. As we got out of the car, I stood and stared at the parking meter. I suddenly felt that I was being confronted by an alien. While I pondered the intricacies of an old-fashioned meter, I heard a woman approaching me.
She was dressed in baggy clothes, and accompanied by a friend. . .
“Excuse me, ma’am,” she said, “But would you mind buying my friend and me a burger?” She made eye contact, but barely.
“Absolutely,” I said, “as long as you can show me how to work this parking meter.” She started laughing, took my quarter, and placed it in the slot and turned the dial. “Geez, that was embarrassingly easy,” I said.
“Don’t worry about it,” she laughed. “It confuses a lot of people.” I was pretty sure it didn’t, but I thanked her for the support.
“Let’s go inside,” I said. The woman hesitated. “Well, ma’am, we are currently staying at the women’s shelter down the street, and we’re not allowed in there.” I’m sure they had asked others for food and somebody had complained.
I looked inside and said, “Well, today you are paying customers, so I think it’s okay. Let’s go.”
As we entered, my son went to lean against the wall, gaining some separation from a potentially attention-getting situation. As we stood in line, the second woman told me that she was being trained as a chef at the shelter. “Good for you,” I said, “that’s a big deal!”
She said she had her first job interview that day, but the person hiring looked at her and told her they didn’t think she would qualify. “I didn’t even get a chance,” she said, her voice shaking.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but keep trying. The right person will hire you. I’m proud of you.” She smiled.
The woman who helped me with the parking meter stepped up and asked if I could buy burgers for their friends back at the shelter. I asked how many there were, and she named six. So, we bought eight burger meals.
I told them that we were there to see Michael Jordan play, and that it was my son’s birthday. They both yelled out “Happy Birthday!”, raised their hands and ran to hug my son who was standing against the wall. He smiled, hugged them back, and glared at me over their shoulders. He has the biggest heart in the world, however, and his willingness to hug perfect strangers outweighed the glare.
Once all meals were bought and paid for, we parted ways. They yelled a final “Happy Birthday!” to my son as they turned the corner.
Should we have done that?
As we walked towards the MCI Center, my son asked me, “What if they weren’t really from the shelter? What if they were lying?”
I thought about it for a second, and replied, “I’ll tell you what my parents always taught me. They were just asking for food. I don’t care if they were lying. Everybody should get to eat.” He nodded, and we walked into the game.
We found our amazing seats, located only ten rows from the basket, and started inhaling the excitement of seeing Michael Jordan. Jacob’s face lit up as we discussed the best MJ moments, and he squirmed with anticipation.
Suddenly, we heard an announcement. Michael Jordan was having emergency knee surgery, and wouldn’t be present for the game.
My heart broke when I saw the light leave my son’s face.
Jacob, as always, dealt with it graciously, acting like not seeing his all-time hero was no big deal.
I kept muttering that Michael Jordan had never missed a game, and why did he have to miss this one? This was so unfair.
Service with a smile . . .
Within a few minutes, a man in a referee shirt came jogging down the aisle. He crouched down beside me and said, “Would you all like something from the snack bar?” I figured there were waiters for the expensive seats, and they dressed like referees. “Sure, I said.” Jacob ordered nachos and a drink, and I ordered popcorn and a drink.
He actually went and got the snacks and brought them back to our seats. When I tried to pay he said, “It’s on me.”
Confused but grateful, we sat there and ate our snacks. We mentioned to some folks who sat in our row that there were waiters if they wanted a snack. They looked at us like we were crazy, and we couldn’t find our waiter anywhere to prove our story.
Right at game time, our waiter showed up and stood near the basketball floor. We tried to get his attention, but he began to walk . . .onto the basketball floor. He was the game referee.
Jacob and I turned toward each other with mouths open, and slowly looked back at the floor. Somehow, a disappointing night now sparkled with just a little magic.
To this day, I don’t know if he just saw our disappointment or did this at every game. Regardless, it gave Jacob a special moment. We served those women at Burger King, and the referee served us.
Sometimes the most disappointing moments are powered up by one individual who cares enough to reach out and say, “Would you all like something from the snack bar?”