Truckers, Star Trek, Wal Mart, and $53

Heckuva title for a blog post, right? Bet you’re wondering…what on earth is this guy talking about? What kind of weirdness am I going to experience if I dedicate a few minutes to reading this? Allow me to enlighten you…you may be surprised at where this is going.

I’ll preface this with a statement. Most people that know me, understand that I have a really odd perspective on people and humanity in general. I’m not much of a people-person, although I am very much a person-person. In other words, I like individuals just fine; humanity as a whole simply weirds me out. Get me in a car and everyone around me becomes the faceless spawn of Satan and I would be fully justified in vaporizing them with my onboard phaser banks…if I had them installed on my vehicle. Unfortunately, they didn't come standard with my Camry.

Tommy Lee Jones said it perfectly in Men in Black. “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky animals and you know it.”

For better or worse, that’s me. Which sets up this story perfectly.

On Truckers...

I’ve been in the transportation industry—recruiting, specifically—for some 15 years now and in human resources for better than 20. It’s definitely an strange occupation for someone with a somewhat jaded view of humanity. My most recent job was as Director of Recruiting with a small refrigerated outfit in a cornfield in Iowa. I really enjoyed this job. I had good hours, good pay, and worked for a family-owned company that I enjoyed being a part of. I worked my tail off and experienced some decent success in what I was doing.

But the transportation industry isn’t a fun one right now and a lot of companies are really struggling. The shortage of drivers is devastating carriers, particularly smaller ones. Those carriers that haven’t figured out how to retain drivers are going to end up in the meat grinder. This company, as much as I liked it, is one of those. We were hiring drivers in greater numbers than we had in the past, but they were heading out the back door faster than we could bring them in. Cash flow was negative and bills were not getting paid on time. Not a pretty employment landscape to be wandering through.

About a month ago, mid-August or so, I was coming home from work on a Friday night. Things were tough at work; I had every reason to believe that my job was going to end sooner than later. But Friday nights are date nights with my awesome wife and I was definitely looking forward to it. I needed to step back, take a deep breath, and just regroup…spend some time with the love of my life and just unwind.

But I had to get there first. Unfortunately, I had a detour to make.

On Wal Mart…

That’s right, Wal Mart was that detour destination. It’s Friday night, work has been crappy, and I have to go to Wal Mart to pick up a few things before I go home. Definitely the last place in the world I want to go, especially feeling the way I’m feeling on this night. Wal Mart’s somewhat interesting reputation is well-deserved and I could wax on for days about the woes of this place. But sometimes, it becomes a necessary evil and this night was unfortunately one of those nights.

So, I sucked it up and went. I pulled into the parking lot and took a deep breath. I could do this! I just needed to relax, go in and get my stuff, and ignore the reasons why Wal Mart has cultivated the reputation it has. I went in, took my time and meandered through the store, ignoring several reasons why I can’t stand going there, and finally took my purchases up to a register. It was one of the speed lanes, you know the ones where you have less than 20 items and someone in front of you always invariably has 87 or really is just there in front of you to see if you can resist the compulsion to vaporize them with your phaser…if you had one handy.

My luck held out perfectly, I scored the perfect storm…I usually do at Wal Mart. Oh, the stories I could tell. Anyway, I was third in line. The lady currently at the register was in one of Wal Mart’s motorized carts. She had 2 items. Just 2. But she was making a huge stink about something and it was a good 7 or 8 minutes before she was done complaining. Meanwhile, a guy in the lane next to me is cussing and swearing at the automated check-out lady that keeps telling him to check the items in his bag and scan the appropriate items. Sorry, sir, but I don't think that beating on the screen is going to get her to change her mind about you and your foul mouth.

Typical Wal Mart. The negativity entity lives there, I swear.

But here’s where things got interesting. In front of me was a young couple; looked like they were recent newlyweds. They had a few items in their cart and a pizza—a Wal Mart pizza. Definitely not high dollar dinner and seeing their cart, it was obvious they were picking up some items to get them through the week. It was probably their whole grocery list for the next week and the pizza told me that it had to be date night tonight for them.

Judging by their clothes, she was probably a receptionist or secretary somewhere and he might have been working labor or construction—a young couple just getting started out in their life together. What struck me about them, though, was their attitudes. They were oblivious to what was going on around them. They were very attentive to each other, talking quietly to each other (NO phones or texting!), smiling, holding hands….you could just tell that they were in love.

It was pretty neat to see and brought a measure of peace to me that I needed. I felt relaxed for the first time in quite some time. The lady in the wheelchair finally left and the cashier then scanned through this young couple’s groceries. When she was done, the young man ran his card through the reader and the horror that everyone fears, happened: it was denied. Several times through, he got the same message…”No Debit Available.” He tried running it through as credit…”No Credit Available.” At this point, you could tell he was upset and embarrassed. The girl tried running her card through, but it was the same card and account. Of course, she got the same result. Denied. They were now both visibly upset…but not angry and bitter, cussing and swearing; they were just hurt. They were worried and embarrassed and it showed.

The young man went over to the cash machine to see if it would work there. I made some small talk with the cashier and the young lady while she was waiting. I told her “I know how you feel…this is why I always carry my checkbook with me. You never know when those readers are going to go on strike.” You could tell she was grateful for the distraction and understanding, but at this point, I knew it wasn’t a matter of the card not working…it was a matter of them not having the funds.

He came back from the cash machine…no dice. She went to try it, too. I knew what the outcome was going to be. I chatted with the cashier for a bit more, before the young lady came back and the couple began conversing quietly off to the side. She was in tears, he was upset…they didn’t know what to do. But it was obvious they were going to be leaving empty-handed.

On $53…

At this point, I’ve been standing in line for a good while now, but I have been completely at peace. No animosity, no hurry, nothing negative at all. I’m actually feeling pretty mellow and my heart is definitely going out to this young couple. I knew their pain; I’ve been there myself. I looked at the screen and their total was $52 and some change. Not a small amount, to be sure, especially when we live on a fairly tight string ourselves and the prospect of losing my job wasn’t helping matters at all.

But I checked my pocket.

Now, here’s something to keep in mind. My weekly routine is to withdraw a little money out of the bank on Saturdays, to get me through the next week with gas and with lunches. It’s usually not much and by the end of the week, I’ve typically only got a few bucks left on me, maybe $10 at most, if I have anything at all.

In my pocket, I had $53. On a Friday night.

There was no coincidence here at all. I had pretty much exactly what they needed. I paid for their groceries without a second thought. Their gratitude was indescribable and filled me with such a sweet spirit as to completely choke me up. She cried and he shook my hand with tears in his eyes. They both said I didn’t have to do this. I replied “Look, it’s date night tonight, right?” She cried some more and said yes. I told them to go home and enjoy their night and their weekend. I told them that someday, they would be in the same position I was in and would be able to help someone in need. I told them to simply see that day when it came and pay it forward. Nothing more. They left, groceries in hand and tearfully happy, and I’m sure had a wonderful date night together. For me, it was exactly what I needed at that time; the chance to see beyond my own little world and refocus on the big picture.

Great story, right? But what’s the message? Am I trying to say look at me? Look how awesome I am? Or is there something deeper here. Read on…there’s a storm coming.

Truthfully, this was never about me. I never did it for recognition. I don’t know this couple, nor will I probably ever see them again. I didn’t do it for a feather in my hat or to pat myself on the back and I am only writing about it now, because it’s a link in an important chain. I did what I did because I recognized that someone had a need and it was greater than mine. I recognized the individual PERSONs in the whole of humanity that many times just makes me crazy. And I didn’t even have to think about it.

Most people that know me, also know that I believe in God and that He has a big hand in our lives. I go to church, I read scriptures, I do my best to have God as the central part of my life. But my point is not to wax Biblical or religious here. Whether you believe in God or God(s) or Karma or simple good will or that we’re all part of a Matrix-like existence created by an advanced alien civilization, I daresay that most of us believe in the axiom of ‘doing good to our fellow man.’

That is what’s important here—doing good to our fellow man, our neighbors, relatives, even strangers. For this young couple, who may not have even known they had a silent prayer or wish for help, I happened to be the one that was there to help when they needed it. And I was lucky enough to see through my normal cynicism and see an opportunity not only to help someone in need, but to better myself.

As I said, this experience helped me put things in perspective. It reminded me that we find the most joy in making others happy, in helping and serving others when the opportunity arises. Admittedly, too many times I forget about that, but this night, things were different. That’s not to say I am still not cynical of people. I’ll probably never change that part of my personae. But on this night, I found myself more in tune to the PERSON, as opposed to seeing everybody as the lump sum of humanity, where it seems to be all-bad-news, day and night. It definitely brought peace to my troubled soul; I knew that everything would be all right. In the grand scheme of things, work wasn’t the worst (or best) thing I could be experiencing. I was going to be OK.

And then, on September 2nd, I found myself out of a job, downsized out from a carrier that is barely on life support. Unemployed! No Income! Boom, it’s over! Just like that.

In the writing world, that’s what we call a major plot twist, an unhittable curveball, a complete OMG moment. At this point in life, this would probably be a pretty big head-scratcher…what on earth did I do to deserve losing my job? But life is never about guarantees; it’s a true journey with plenty of ups and downs. And again, no matter what you believe in, usually when one door closes, another opens up.

My time in the transportation industry has made me a lot of friends and contacts. I had several individuals reach out to me with possible job offers and within a week of losing my job, I had accepted a position as a contract recruiter with a guy I’ve known for some 15 years. I’m still working on getting things off the ground and officially away from being unemployed, but at the moment, it’s looking extremely promising. It’s purely commission, no salary, and it’ll take me a bit of time and work to get it rolling. But the time is right to do it and above all, it was available. I will be working from home, which is wonderful and best of all…I no longer have to punch someone else’s time clock!

All’s well that ends well, right? But I’m guessing that you’re wondering if aside from the phaser references, is there anything more to the Star Trek comment I made in the blog title? Or was it just click-bait?

On Star Trek…

Well, let’s see. Go out and check out this site:

Star Trek Renegades is a crowd-funded endeavor to bring Star Trek back to television. It has the blessing of CBS and features a number of well-known Trek actors, with more to come. Renegades released their pilot movie free on YouTube a few weeks ago and I loved it what they were able to do with it without any big production budget. The potential for this new series is extraordinary and I cannot wait to see where they go with it.

Why am I bringing that up?

At 4:00 on Tuesday afternoon, September 22nd, I began a conference call with Sky Conway, creator and executive producer of Star Trek Renegades. The lump sum of that wonderful meeting was this.

I have been authorized to write the novelization of Star Trek Renegades. In terms of being an author looking for lightning to strike to take you to the next level, I just got lit up in the most spectacular fashion. If I had any hair, it would be standing on end for weeks. I grew up with Star Trek. I watched the show religiously (still do!), made paper communicators and phasers while I was in school, and read all the episode novelizations by James Blish multiple times. I also have some 30 or 40 old Star Trek novels in my library. I’m a Trek nerd, without a doubt, and very proud of that. To now be in a position where I can be an actual part of creating that universe, a universe I have held near and dear all my life, is almost too much for words.

As I said earlier, it doesn’t matter what or who you believe in, but there is a quiet order to our world, our universe. Evil begets evil…good begets good. My faith in God tells me that none of this just happened. Things had to happen just perfectly for all this to come about this way. This experience at Wal Mart helped bring a clarity to life in general that I had been muddling with for some time. It helped me see beyond my own personal trials and opened me up to see that things could be much greater than they were. My job had to end exactly when it did. Larry had to put that offer on the table to become a contract recruiter, exactly when he did. Had I kept my job or lost it and quickly accepted a salary position, punching a time clock again, would I have the time to do this project? Hard to say, but I doubt it, and definitely not in the timeframe we want to complete this project in. Would I have even pursued it? No, it likely never would have crossed my mind to take the shot. But because things happened like they did, I did take a run at it. And...

Life in general is about turning points. Things happen and choices are put before you and what you decide to do can completely affect your destiny. In hindsight, when I look back on it, it’s really hard not to see a step-by-step plan that brought me to this point. For me, I have no doubt that my life is divinely directed and in many more ways than I may even realize at times. My mother always claimed I have a guardian angel, a notion that I share and which is another story entirely. But the point is simple. Even if you believe in nothing more than luck, you still have to invest something in order to win. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play, right?

In this case, I just played at doing a good thing by someone in need. And God or Karma or aliens or life in general depending on what you believe, paid me back and placed a new and exciting journey before me. Gene Roddenberry's saying has never been more relevant for me than today…

“To boldly go…”

Now, if I can only get them to allow me to put on a red shirt and die in an episode, my life will truly be complete.

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