July 28, 2011
I’d driven down to Los Angeles to interview
a well-known artist
, and afterwards had met friends in Culver City for dinner. I hadn’t reserved a room anywhere, and after saying good night, I ended up at a Motel 6 fifteen or twenty miles east on Highway 10. It was still hot outside, maybe 90 degrees. From the look of things, I was deep in gang territory. The young couple checking in ahead of me added to this impression. I'd seen them getting out of their low rider. His arms and neck were covered with tattoos. She had lots of piercings and heavy make up. I was nervous. I felt I'd landed deep in another world where I was vulnerable, and could be called to account for the crimes and injustices in our larger culture.
I watched as they went through the usual process of getting a room. Okay. I felt a little less nervous. My turn. I got a room and ended up having a good night’s sleep. In the morning, as I was carrying my bags to the car, I noticed a young man standing alone out in the middle of the parking lot. Seeing me heading for my car, he shouted, “Good morning!”
“Good morning,” I responded.
And then, continuing to look at me with a smile, he said, “Have a blessed day
His words were so unexpected, and so genuine, they passed into an unguarded place in me that simply lit up. His gesture was
a blessing, and could not have been more unexpected.
Getting into my car, and feeling lighter, I remembered the car needed gas. Glancing around, I noticed that right next to the motel there was a gas station. Great! I filled the tank. Okay. What about breakfast? Almost the moment that thought entered my mind, I spotted a restaurant across the street. Things were definitely lining up.
Walking in, I was led to a booth. It was a nice place—open, clean. A waitress came over, “Coffee?” Surprising how much one takes in so quickly. The way she wore her uniform, for instance. Impeccable. She was, I soon realized, an impeccable waitress. Her presence next to me at the booth left the space completely open. Nothing impinged. And yet, I was aware of her attention on me.
She handed me one of those over-sized, plastic-coated menus covered with photos and visual distractions and left. I sat there holding it in both hands looking for something simple, something not in a photograph. At the bottom of the page, I spotted a line of text: “Senior’s special”—one egg, two pancakes and bacon. $5.99. Right. That should do it.
It was hard to know all the sources of the state I found myself in as I sat there, at home inside myself – more awake, more open.
Now my waitress was back. I ordered the Senior Special.
“Don’t you want the “Fast Start”? she asked.
I hadn’t noticed that one.
She pointed to the menu—“See this one? Fast Start
I took a quick glance: $4.99, two
eggs, two pancakes and bacon.
“You get more, and save money,” she pointed out.
I took a quick look at her to see if there was some hidden agenda. No. I didn’t think so. The Fast Start was a better deal. Same thing, plus an extra egg and one dollar less
! Hmmm. Why not? I ordered the Fast Start.
As she walked away I watched her, a middle-aged Hispanic woman, and couldn’t help feeling that something unusual was going on. Absolutely everything was falling into place with no effort from me at all. I was even being gifted an extra dollar. It was almost as if I’d entered some zone of perfection.
As I sat in the booth waiting for my Fast Start to arrive, I was beginning to believe there was something mysterious going on. No, that’s not quite accurate. Actually, that moment in the parking lot when I opened myself to making eye contact with the stranger, when in that moment, smiling, he blessed me, in that moment
, something inside was came to life like a small songbird.
In that moment, I knew
something mysterious had happened.
I don’t mean to exaggerate. In the context of ordinary life, I could have passed over the whole thing and just called it a nice morning. But maybe we don’t look closely enough at things.
My waitress brought the food. Walking away, she stopped at a booth across from me where a younger man had been talking about different kinds of cell phones with an older man. I watched her. She did her job with a seemingly effortless discipline, but in no way shortchanged the customers. Not at all. One could say, she was a thorough professional. That’s one way to put it, but what I was seeing carried me beyond that into a world I didn’t know—but sensed—a world where one approached one’s work—like a warrior, perhaps.
The way of it, which I was watching from my plate of pancakes and eggs, was almost invisible. And what was letting me see like this?
As I ate my breakfast, at a certain point, I begin to think about the tip I would leave. Certainly, I’d add the saved dollar to my usual tip. But why not more? The thought filled me with a little charge of happiness. I’d leave a ten-dollar bill! What would that be? 60% or so.
Then, as I was finishing off the last bite of scrambled egg and already feeling the pleasure of my unplanned generosity, something else entered my mind. Maybe the ten dollars was too easy. Didn’t this morning call for something more? I’d been transformed, not only by the generosity of others, but by seeing into a world I hadn’t known; it was so much bigger than the one painted by my fears. In gratitude, I had to give back something that counted, something from myself. Something that cost me. In the invisible measure of things, anything less just wouldn't do.