Of Cars, Bars, Friends and Strangers

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Recently I went to a local watering hole to have a cold one while watching some Sunday night football.

While there I had a brief conversation with BR. BR is a respectable enough fellow. He proudly wore his Vietnam Veteran baseball cap.  Upon noticing it I thanked him for his service to our country.

Shocked he thanked me and said, “Wow I don’t get that too often. Since those days I’ve normally gotten the opposite.”

I assured him that regardless of the politics of the war itself he was a soldier following orders and he should never be faulted for that. I appreciated BR as an American and my thanks to him was indeed sincere. After that we dabbled in a little conversation about politics and since he was rather full of the vine he was kinda loud with it.

It was clear that BR had too much to drink. After a while as he was saying his goodbyes I asked him how he was getting home. He showed me his keys and started to stumble for the door.  I knew he had no business driving that Lincoln Continental in the parking lot so I tried to convince him to let me take him home.  He tried to convince me that he was just fine and didn’t need my assistance.  As he stated his case and started to make his way to the door he stumbled into my arms.  I looked him in the eye and said, “BR, I know you think you are OK and perhaps you aren’t used to another man challenging you in this area.  But this is not about that.  Screw pride.  You are in no shape to drive.  This is not a judgment on you, but a plea that you accept the help.

BR was a tough customer.  I sensed he wanted to let me drive him home but he didn’t want to leave his car at the bar.  I supposed the thought of trying to get it the next day was burdensome.  I had to go for broke and pull out all the stops.

“Where do you live BR?” 

“About a couple miles from here,” he said.

I told BR that I would take him home in his car and arrange my own way back.  This seemed to satisfy the chap.  I drove him in his car and when we got there walked him into his home.  It took about 10 minutes to get from his drive way to his side door entrance as the man was totally six sheets to the wind. 

How are you getting back he said?

I’m walking… but its cool.  I’m in excellent shape!  Have a good night BR.  See you around.

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Fast forward to this past Friday:

I celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday where she was looking to get inebriated.  Not that this was her first day of drinking, but first day of legal drinking.  She was great on transportation as she and her family on her mother’s side took a school bus where they all rode together. 

When I got to the restaurant/bar I tried to get some photo shots of the birthday girl with my blackberry and initially had trouble with the lighting.  I decided to check my car to see if I had my camera handy.  Upon walking out the door I noticed two women leaving and walking toward the parking lot.  Well sort of.

Really they were all but stumbling towards the parking lot.  If I were to estimate the level of intoxication of the two, I would say woman 1 was about a 5 on a scale of 10.  Woman 2 was an easy 9 at best.   As they looked at me one of them made some sort of comment and laughed as I walked by.  I went to my car to search for the camera.  After a few minutes as I locked my car door noticed woman 1 had escorted woman 2 to her car.  Woman 1 literally had to help woman 2 into the passenger seat.  Woman 2 couldn’t stop laughing at herself obviously amused at her state.  Woman 1 said to woman 2 between chuckles, Call me when you get home so I will know you are alright.” 

These two events are what prompted this post.

This isn’t about the drinker who has too many and decides to get in the car irresponsibly.  That’s because most of us understand the dangers in that and there are plenty of organizations to sound that alarm.  Not to mention we do have millions of alcoholics in our nation.  Alcoholism is an addiction and as such I understand that any addiction brings with it irresponsible behavior.  Driving while impaired is dangerous for any and everyone on the road.  That includes myself, my family and friends as well as any of yours. We get that?  Or do we?

My problem in these two instances were not so much the drinkers, but the other patrons and friends who see someone in a drunken state whether a stranger or worse yet a friend about to get behind the wheel of a car and let them.   Believe me when I tell you that though I took BR home that night, I knew him the least of everyone in that bar and not one of them was willing to help him.  They were fine to watch him possibly turn his car into a missile and hurt himself and or others.  Woman 1 whom I referenced seemed to have thought to come to a stopping point where she wouldn’t be so bad off.  Yet she had no problem putting her “friend” behind the wheel knowing full and well she was not capable of expertly handling that vehicle.  Why wouldn’t she take her home?  Why not call her a cab?

Think about it.  Where I live there are thousands of restaurants and bars where one can buy liquor.  When I go to a bar, I know within 5 minutes who needs to drive who doesn’t.  In most every bar there is a great chance that every single night of the week there is at least one person that drives away intoxicated.  Victims of drunk driving can testify to the damage.  So can police I’m sure.  But how many of us enable people by not even saying a word.

BR could have kept blowing me off.  I don’t know what I would have done if he had.  Maybe I would have followed behind him.  Maybe I would have called the police.  Maybe I would have asked for some assistance.  I don’t know.  It just didn’t seem right to do nothing.  I think at the end of the day, the man knew that I cared and that made the difference.

I know we live at a time when folk don’t want to get in other folk business.  I know that challenging someone not to drive drunk can cause conflict.  It just seems to me that I would rather have a person tell me ‘no’ than to not say anything at all.  It don’t seem right to see someone who may have had too much get behind the wheel when it could be a tragedy waiting to happen. 

I hope others will extend a hand and show someone you care when someone can’t help themselves.  The life you save may be your own or someone you love.

BB&G Mourns A Great Man

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The first time I met Mr. John Bass was in 1996 when he interviewed me for a position within his department.  Two questions stick out in my memory till this day. 

JohnWhat is your biggest challenge in life whether it’s something within your career or otherwise?

MeManhood.  That may sound strange at the age of 29.  But I didn’t have many manhood images growing up.  So I am learning by O.J.T.  And I struggle to find what it really means to be a man; what it looks like, what it feels like.  How will it look to my children?  It’s an ongoing thing but I embrace the challenge.

JohnThe people working in this departments have degrees and you don’t.  I think you’re an excellent candidate.  But why should I hire you over them?  Don’t they deserve the opportunity more since they earned their degrees?

MeI would not tell you not to hire any of those people.  I can tell you that I’m hungry!  I can tell you that if you hire me, I would make it my goal to make sure nobody could ever point to you and say, “You hired this guy and he blew it.  I will never make you look bad and regret hiring me.” 

This was the start of not only a wonderful working relationship, but an abiding mentor and friendship between John and I.  His presence and demeanor allowed me to be totally honest with him in that interview.  In most interviews I’ve experienced, people are not looking for honest but for suaveness.  They want to be wowed.  But I was just at a point in my life where I didn’t have it to give.  I was naive and sincere.  But I got my chance.

A few months later, I was let go because of corporate restructuring.  I came to work one morning and noticed that my sign on password wasn’t working.  On my third try John patted me on the shoulder.  “Can I talk you for a minute?”

Off to this room away from the area he explained to me that they were cutting back.  And the last 3 of us hired would be let go.  He was sad.  I was cool.  I have always been the type to take bad news well especially during the begining stages.  I was doing a great job and he was proud of my progress.  I did nothing wrong.  So I was satisfied with my efforts.  I explained to John that I was happy and thankful for the opportunity.  And that this was the best job I ever had.  If I were blessed to make it in the door under such circumstances then God would give me something else.  I smiled, he shed a tear.  I hugged him. 

A few months later I got a call from a friend of mine who still worked there and had originally referred me to the position.  She said that they were hiring again and John wanted to know if I were working and if I were interested in coming back.  I was working.  But heck yea I wanted back in!  He brought me back, gave me a 10% increase (for the trouble he said) and restored my original tenure.  We had some great years working together after that. 

But there’s more.  We shared a mutual interest in sports; high school sports in particular so we talked and saw a few local high school basketball games.  He loved going to St. Louis University (SLU) games and soon became a season ticket holder.  On Thanksgiving, he and his family would visit relatives out of town.  Often I got his traditional Saturday after Thanksgiving SLU game seat.  Eventually the company made more changes.  And he was offered a new position that was more suitable for his accounting degree and love for numbers.  I was happy for him yet saddened at the end of an era.  Though working in the same office area, he would no longer be my boss.

Less than a year after that, his position was eliminated with no other options offered.  Our entire department was in shock.  John was such a valuable member of our company.  He was the brain of and developed the policies and procedures of our department.  We all owed our livelihoods to the man.  I mailed John a check and told him I loved him.  He mailed it back assuring me that he was OK financially.  He was in defeat as he was in victory.  Gracious, introspective and strong. 

I remember the department gave him a card and an little trinket calling it the FDR, “Walk Softly and Carry A Big Stick Award,”  because he never lost his cool.  He led with a strong hand but a soft touch.  He knew how to pick battles and damn sure how to win them.  He was humble, and he was mighty.

When word got out that John was sick, I rushed to the hospital to see him.  The cancer had started to eat away as his body.  But he fought like a soldier making his way back to his latest position with his last company.  The same company I work at now.  He was bored sitting at home he said.  Needed something to do.  Sitting in his office recently he talked about being tired all the time, and not too sure about how long he would be able to keep coming, even on the part time basis he maintained.  But otherwise, he was optimistic about his health. 

Imagine the shock I felt as I read the email saying he had gone on peacefully along side family and friends.  As I said earlier, like John, normally I can take things and compartmentalize them into proper perspective, even death.  But this one was different.  I have been in a practical daze all week.  There aren’t many men in my life that I can say are great.  John is definitely one of them though. 

Today we will bury my friend.  And I am thankful most of all for his friendship, his mentor-ship, his sense of humor and his class.  I will remember those smooth hats he wore during winter. That funky moustache he rocked still etched in 70’s fashion.  His favorite music from groups like War and artist like Santana.  I will remember his love for his wife and two adult children.  I will remember the grace and dignity of a gentleman’s gentleman.  And I will smile.

Rest In Peace JB.  And thanks for everything.  We’ll miss you.  Heck man, I’ll miss you.