NOT EVERY BUM IS A BUM …
It was my first month as Manager of the roadside diner, and the owner had stressed the importance of not giving free food or scraps to the transients and homeless that liked to come in. We typically got up to a dozen who would stop in at various times, asking for food. He told me that he had to learn the hard way. Once you give in, the word goes out to the streets and the diner gets inundated with people expecting, and sometimes demanding, their free handout. I took his advice to heart.
“Sarge” was a regular. He always came in around mid-morning and sat in the booth closest to the kitchen. He quietly drank his coffee, ate his plain donut and read a well-worn Bible. He always paid for his breakfast in coins, and he always left a 35-cent tip.
One day, during a slow time in the diner, I asked him how he came to live on the streets.
“Just one of those things,” he said. “Just one of those things.”
I then asked him why, since he didn’t have a lot of money, he always left a tip for the waitress.
He tapped his Bible, and said, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
There was something different about Sarge, something that told me he wasn’t like the usual transients and homeless that came in looking for handouts. There was a respectful quietness about him, and yet at the same time, a subtle strength. He was sort of like Mahatma Gandhi and the Incredible Hulk rolled into one. He never bothered anyone and no one bothered him.
One morning, about halfway through his coffee and donut, he began crying. I sat down across from him and asked what was wrong. He told me that about four years ago, he had befriended an old dog and they had been together ever since. But overnight, his dog died.
“I’m really alone now,” he said.
I asked him if there was anything I could do for him. He said, “No. Thanks, but no. Nothing.” And he lowered his head.
I offered him a breakfast special, but he said he couldn’t afford it. I told him it would be on the house.
“No. Thanks,” he said. Then he tapped his Bible and said, “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
I told him that I could use a little help organizing a storage closet and I would really appreciate it if he could help me out, in exchange for a breakfast or two.
He looked up at me, studied me for about ten seconds, and said, “Okay. I can do that.”
He spent about a half hour and did a rather good job of organizing and cleaning the storage closet.
I don’t know how long it had been since he had eaten a full meal, but he seemed truly grateful for his breakfast. I gave him my business card and told him that if he needed anything, to give me a call and I would see what I could do.
He looked at me, and again studied me for about ten seconds. Then he said, “Okay. I can take your card,” and he nodded his head.
I got distracted by a delivery guy in the back of the diner, so I didn’t notice when he left. But I did notice he left 68 cents for a tip.
Later that day, I found his old Bible sitting on one of the shelves in the storage closet. I put it by the cash register so that I could give it to him the next morning.
The next morning came and went, but for the first time, Sarge did not.
A few days later, a police detective stopped in the diner to ask me a few questions about Sarge. He had died after being hit by a drunk driver.
The detective said they found my business card in his shirt pocket.
Written on the back of it, in pencil, were two words: “Not alone.”