A Truckers Story
If this doesn't light your fire.. your wood is wet!
I try not to be biased, but I had my doubts about hiring Stevie. His
placement counselor assured me that he would be a good, reliable busboy.
But I had never had a mentally handicapped employee and wasn't sure I
wanted one. I wasn't sure how my customers would react to Stevie.
He was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and
thick-tongued speech of Downs Syndrome. I wasn't worried about most of my
trucker customers because truckers don't generally care who buses tables
as long as the meat loaf platter is good and the pies are homemade.
The four-wheeler drivers were the ones who concerned me; the mouthy
college kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish
their silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded
"truck stop germ" the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense
accounts who think every truck stop waitress wants to be flirted with. I
knew those people would be uncomfortable around Stevie so I closely
watched him for the first few weeks.
I shouldn't have worried. After the first week, Stevie had my staff
wrapped around his stubby little finger, and within a month my truck
regulars had adopted him as their official truck stop mascot.
After that, I really didn't care what the rest of the customers thought of
him. He was like a 21-year-old in blue jeans and Nikes, eager to laugh and
eager to please, but fierce in his attention to his duties. Every salt and
pepper shaker was exactly in its place, not a bread crumb or coffee spill
was visible when Stevie got done with the table. Our only problem
was persuading him to wait to clean a table until after the customers were
finished. He would hover in the background, shifting his weight from one
foot to the other, scanning the dining room until a table was empty. Then
he would scurry to the empty table and carefully bus dishes and glasses
onto his cart and meticulously wipe the table up with a practiced flourish
of his rag.
If he thought a customer was watching, his brow would pucker with added
concentration. He took pride in doing his job exactly right, and you had
to love how hard he tried to please each and every person he met.
Over time, we learned that he lived with his mother, a widow who was
disabled after repeated surgeries for cancer. They lived on their Social
Security benefits in public housing two miles from the truck stop. Their
social worker, who stopped to check on him every so often, admitted they
had fallen between the cracks. Money was tight, and what I paid him was
probably the difference between them being able to live together and
Stevie being sent to a group home. That's why the restaurant was a gloomy
place that morning last August, the first morning in three years that
Stevie missed work.
He was at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester getting a new valve or something
put in his heart. His social worker said that people with Downs Syndrome
often have heart problems at an early age so this wasn't unexpected, and
there was a good chance he would come through the surgery in good shape
and be back at work in a few months.
A ripple of excitement ran through the staff later that morning when word
came that he was out of surgery, in recovery, and doing fine.
Frannie, the head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little dance in
the aisle when she heard the good news.
Belle Ringer, one of our regular trucker customers, stared at the sight of
this 50-year-old grandmother of four doing a victory shimmy beside his
Frannie blushed, smoothed her apron and shot Belle Ringer a withering
He grinned. "OK, Frannie, what was that all about?" he asked.
"We just got word that Stevie is out of surgery and going to be okay."
"I was wondering where he was. I had a new joke to tell him.
What was the surgery about?"
Frannie quickly told Belle Ringer and the other two drivers sitting at his
booth about Stevie's surgery, then sighed: "Yeah, I'm glad he is going to
be OK," she said. "But I don't know how he and his Mom are going to handle
all the bills. From what I hear, they're barely getting by as it is."
Belle Ringer nodded thoughtfully, and Frannie hurried off to wait on the
rest of her tables. Since I hadn't had time to round up a busboy to
replace Stevie and really didn't want to replace him, the girls were
busing their own tables that day until we decided what to do.
After the morning rush, Frannie walked into my office. She had a couple of
paper napkins in her hand and a funny look on her face.
"What's up?" I asked.
"I didn't get that table where Belle Ringer and his friends were sitting
cleared off after they left, and Pony Pete and Tony Tipper were sitting
there when I got back to clean it off," she said. "This was folded and
tucked under a coffee cup."
She handed the napkin to me, and three $20 bills fell onto my desk when I
opened it. On the outside, in big, bold letters, was printed "Something
"Pony Pete asked me what that was all about," she said, "so I told him
about Stevie and his Mom and everything, and Pete looked at Tony and Tony
looked at Pete, and they ended up giving me this." She handed me another
paper napkin that had "Something For Stevie" scrawled on its outside. Two
$50 bills were tucked within its folds. Frannie looked at me with wet,
shiny eyes, shook her head and said simply: "truckers."
That was three months ago. Today is Thanksgiving, the first day Stevie is
supposed to be back to work.
His placement worker said he's been counting the days until the doctor
said he could work, and it didn't matter at all that it was a holiday. He
called 10 times in the past week, making sure we knew he was coming,
fearful that we had forgotten him or that his job was in jeopardy. I
arranged to have his mother bring him to work. I then met them in the
parking lot and invited them both to celebrate his day back.
Stevie was thinner and paler, but couldn't stop grinning as he pushed
through the doors and headed for the back room where his apron and busing
cart were waiting.
"Hold up there, Stevie, not so fast," I said. I took him and his mother by
their arms. "Work can wait for a minute. To celebrate you coming back,
breakfast for you and your mother is on me!" I led them toward a large
corner booth at the rear of the room.
I could feel and hear the rest of the staff following behind as we marched
through the dining room. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw booth after
booth of grinning truckers empty and join the procession. We stopped in
front of the big table. Its surface was covered with coffee cups, saucers
and dinner plates, all sitting slightly crooked on dozens of folded paper
napkins. "First thing you have to do, Stevie, is clean up this mess," I
said. I tried to sound stern.
Stevie looked at me, and then at his mother, then pulled out one of the
napkins. It had "Something for Stevie" printed on the outside. As he
picked it up, two $10 bills fell onto the table.
Stevie stared at the money, then at all the napkins peeking from beneath
the tableware, each with his name printed or scrawled on it. I turned to
his mother. "There's more than $10,000 in cash and checks on that table,
all from truckers and trucking companies that heard about your problems.
Well, it got real noisy about that time, with everybody hollering and
shouting, and there were a few tears, as well.
But you know what's funny? While everybody else was busy shaking hands and
hugging each other, Stevie, with a big, big smile on his face, was busy
clearing all the cups and dishes from the table.
Best worker I ever hired.
Plant a seed and watch it grow.
If you shed a tear, hug yourself, because you are a compassionate person.
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