Monday, May 31, 2010

Mr. Heinz 57

The sign as you drive in to Rock Springs, Wyoming reads: "Welcome to Rock Springs. Home of 56 nationalities."

I did some detective work to find out exactly how they came to that number. So I asked a friendly manager at Wendy's as we waited for our food.

"I have no idea," he replied. "It must be something to do with the census."

I was satisfied with that answer, so I asked him which of the 56 nationalities he represented.

"Me? I'm Heinz 57!"

"I don't get it..."

"Well, I'm like Heinz 57 steak sauce. There are 57 ingredients on Heinz 57, and I'm pretty sure I have 57 different types of blood in me. I'm part English, part Swedish, with a little bit of Dutch thrown in...and a bunch of other stuff."

I think they should change the sign to read: "Welcome to Rock Springs. Home of Heinz 57."

The Dukie

I was going to post this last night, but the internet wasn't working. So here it is...Sunday's Amigo.

"Oh, so you're from North Carolina! Are you a big Tar Heels fan?"

He gave me a look mixed with surprise and disgust. "Heck no! Far from it. I'm a Blue Devil fan through and through!" He lifted up his wrist and showed me his watch with a Blue Devil in the center. I know there is a huge rivalry between North Carolina and Duke...people actually camp out six weeks in advance of their basketball game to buy tickets. I've always wondered...if you live in North Carolina, how do you choose between Duke and NC? I posed the question.

"For me it was easy. I had a brain tumor and was going to die, but the doctors at Duke performed brain surgery and saved my life. So I've always liked Duke. I guess I traded my life for allegiance," he joked.

I don't think I've heard a better reason to like a sports team.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sailing Seniors

I went to a department store with my wife because she needed to return some things. Usually, if I know my wife is going to take a while at the register, I will start a conversation with the people behind me. After a couple of minutes of talking, we become friends, so they aren't mad when the cashier takes forever. Today I looked at the couple behind us and said to the guy:

"Is your wife making you lug everything around today like I am?"

He laughed. "I didn't want to come. But she made me to pick out these shirts. I guess I owe her for living with me on a sailboat for two years."


"My wife and I spent two years living on a sailboat, just sailing up the East Coast. We started in Florida and headed north."

"So, what brings a couple of sailors to the mountains?" I asked.

The woman perked up. "Well, I was born and raised here...he convinced me to go sailing for two years, so we lived on the boat for two years and one month. Then, when we were done, he owed me a favor, so I said, 'Honey, I want to live in a house, and I want it to be by the mountains.' So we bought a house here."

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mr. Mom at the Park

I met him and his three-year old son at a park. First off, he has the most interesting job I've ever heard. You know the shapes and cuts of jewelry, like diamonds and what not? Well, he programs the little mechanical arms of the cutters to cut the correct shape.

While we were talking, his son saw this kid who had a cool hat with a propeller on top. When flyboy wouldn't give him the helicopter hat, he picked up sand from the sandbox and threw it in his face! His dad reprimanded him. But then his son got pushed over by another kid... and he just stood there and "let his son deal with it."

"When I was a kid," he told me, "me and my friend would sit across from each other with army-hats on. We would take our toy soldiers and put them in the middle, and then throw rocks at them. One day, a bigger kid walked up and took my hat. I didn't know how to respond. I tried to ignore him, but he kept taunting me with it. So I walked up to my dad and asked him what I should do. 'Son,' he replied, 'I don't care what you do. Just don't come back to me without your hat.' So, about five minutes later, I came back with a black eye and my hat on my head. Then he took me to McDonald's."

In the days of helicopter moms and dads, it's nice to see some parents still use the good old "figure it out on your own" method.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Mechanic

Today, as I was buying two new tires for my car, a guy walked in to the shop looking for work.
They told him they were hiring...but he would had to shave his huge beard. I asked him how long he'd been growing it.

"Since I was 16," he said. "It's kind of sad having to shave it off, but with the way the economy is right now, I don't have a problem with it. You gotta do what you gotta do."

Then I heard them tell a older woman she would have to wait forty-five minutes for a tire rotation.

"Forty-five minutes!" I said. "What are you gonna do for forty-five minutes?"

We ended up chatting away. She's very excited because her daughter and son-in-law are going to Las Vegas for their anniversary this weekend, and she gets to watch her almost-two-year old granddaughter. She told me about her three kids, and I was so happy to hear how proud she is of them, and how much she loves their spouses.

Then I took my car over to get an oil change, and decided to talk it up with the mechanic. I asked him to teach me how to change the oil...and he did! We laughed over the fact that he is teaching me how to do something that I would pay him to do otherwise. He told me about his family, and we discussed faith, and how important the family is. I left him not only wanting to take better care of my truck, but also to take better care of my wife.

Look around you...there is always a vehicle for a good conversation. For me today, that vehicle was my car.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mr. Small World

It's amazing how small the worlds gets when you talk to people around you. Consider this conversation I had today with a guy I met at a travel center.

"I'm from Huntington Beach," I responded to his question.

"Huntington Beach??? I proposed to my wife at Huntington Beach about 30 years ago!" he said surprised. "I was living up in Washington, and was going to propose to fly her out to Virginia Beach to propose. But, at the last minute, there was a massive I said 'How about we spend the weekend in California?' She loves the beach, so we were laying there on the sand and I asked her to marry me!"

Then, a woman in the office looked over.

"Did you say you were from Huntington Beach? I'm from Laguna!" she asked.

"Oh my gosh...I used to date a girl from Laguna! Her name was Sarah ____!"

Her eyes got wide. "I know her and her family!"

Three building...a storm...a connection 30 years in the making. How amazing is that?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Busboy

Conversation can start over so many things. Today, it started because of leftover pickles.

My wife and I decided to splurge and grab some fast food for dinner tonight (okay, okay, I'll admit it...we had a gift card). After ordering, I walked up to an open booth, but somebody hadn't cleaned up their pickles. A busboy cut me off and wiped the table clean for me. I tapped him, on the shoulder and said,"Hey, thanks a lot man."

He looked back at me, and I could tell not a lot of people say that to him. We talked for a little bit, and I found out he had worked as a busboy for the same restaurant in Santa Clarita, CA. That's how he landed the job here (there were about 1,000 applications when the store opened). We got our food and started to eat.

About a half an hour later, we got up and walked out the door. Suddenly, from across the restaurant, we heard someone yell "Thanks for coming in! It was nice to meet you!" We turned back and saw our busboy there smiling.

We can make someone's day with a simple "Thank you." Even if it's just thanking him for doing his job.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Woman Who Stares At Goats

"How can a goat be a pet?" I wondered when she told me she had two pet goats.

Then I saw her interact with them. She petted them, played with them, and held them. And these goats treated her like their mom, but that wasn't the only reason she loved them. It turns out their manure actually helps plants to grow, and they'll eat every single weed in your yard. But what impressed me most was when she said, "They are also great for the community. I love having all the neighborhood kids come over to see and pet the goats. It really brings the neighborhood closer together."

She has gotten all her neighbors to sign a petition and send letters telling the city council to let her keeps the goats, citing how it's doing the community a service rather than being a burden.

In her words: "I just see too many kids living their lives in a virtual reality filled with video games and the computer. I want to have these goats to show these kids: this is real life! This is nature! I want to show them goat's milk and say 'See! Milk doesn't come from a store! It comes from living, breathing animals!'"

I admire her fight. With video games, the internet, and television destroying the sense of community in out neighborhoods, she has found a secret weapon to combat it. Farm animals...who knew?

PS: At the time of this writing, both goats are pregnant and should deliver soon. I wish you the best of luck, Goat Woman!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mr. Airport Shuttler

I knew it was going to be a busy day today what with church, dinner at my aunt's house, and the massive four-hour series finale of "LOST." So I got out meeting people early. I took my dog out for a walk, and spotted a guy combing his hair as he walked to his car.

"Don't worry man, your hair looks great!"

He just smiled. I could tell he probably didn't speak much English. It looked like he had just gotten out of bed. Then I saw his car: an airport shuttle van. I asked him how business was going.

"Good!" he said. "I'm running 24 hours a day."

He hadn't just gotten out of bed...he had just gotten in bed. I can't imagine working 24 hours a day, sleeping only when you can.

After meeting him, I don't just enjoy my 7-8 hours of sleep per night...I'm thankful for it.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

DJ Furniture Salesman

I took my dog to the park today, and he started playing with a brown lab. I got to talking with the owner.

"Yeah, my friend and I are starting a modern furniture store in South Salt Lake in August. I just got a $250,000 loan."

I commented that he must be feeling the pressure, but he just smiled and said, "Actually, the hardest part so far has been creating the business plan. They have to be so detailed!"

It was interesting to see a guy who looked my age aspiring to be a furniture salesman. I asked him if he wanted to be a furniture salesman for his entire life.

"Nah, it's just a good way to make money, but what I really want to go into music. I'm a house and techno DJ, and I just sent a couple of demo tapes into some producers, but I haven't heard anything from them."

Nothing stopped this guy from writing a business plan, and getting a $250,000 bank loan for a furniture business, and I don't see discouragement stopping him from a music career either. Like he said he told his friend, "I told her, no one can stop you from doing anything you want to do."

But here's the most amazing part: I learned that this all got started after his friend got fired as a RN, and he inspired her to stand on her own two feet and make something happen. He is partnering with her to help her start this business. I hope their business succeeds, but even if it doesn't, he will be successful.

Anytime you do something to help another, you are a success. No matter what.

The Popsicle Thief

I knocked on my friend's door. I didn't recognize the guy who opened it. He was licking a Popsicle. We got to talking about...well...whatever.

"Yeah, my cousins aren't home...I just came by to visit them for a second."

"And it looks like you came by to steal a Popsicle too." I joked.

He gave me a sheepish grin. I'd caught him red-handed. I found out later that after our chat he called his cousin and confessed to having eaten a Popsicle.

This is short because I got a question today I want to answer. Here it is:

Question: "I recently read your blog. Yesterday, I was on a run when I noticed a man sitting Indian-style on the pavement reading a book. What made this man interesting was that he was outside his car reading on the ground, right next to a freeway. There was a lovely little park within 50 feet of him, and a library about a block away. I really wanted to know what, and why, he was reading like that, but I didn't know what to say. I thought to myself...'What would The Amigo say?'...How would you start a conversation with him?"

Answer: In most cases, the best way to start a conversation is by asking the other person something about what he is doing. People love to talk about themselves. In this particular case, I would have asked, "Excuse me, but can I ask what book you are reading?" I've noticed people love to talk about the books they read, because they feel intelligent. I would then asked if he liked it and why. Then, after we have established "likability", I might move on to something like..."Why did you decide to read right here on the side of the know there's a park close by?"

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Cookin' Coach

The heavenly smell of Bar-B-Que smoke filled my nostrils when I met The Cookin' Coach. Dressed in shorts, a button up shirt, and a camouflage JEEP hat, he had his tongs in hand--the master of his domain. He is a little league tee-ball coach who took his team to the park to fill up on hot dogs, beef, and grilled onions. We chatted over flipping burgers.

"When I'm not a coach, I broker insurance...a lot of different stuff," he told me. He slapped on some cheese and flipped the onions. "I realized a few year ago that I just can't do 9 to 5." He grabbed a paper plate and unloaded about five hamburgers. "I'm not built that I just work on my own and do whatever comes along!"

I was reminded of a quote by Yann Martel: "A tie is a noose, and inverted though it is, it will hang a man nonetheless if he's not careful."

A lot of people might say The Cookin' Coach has it all wrong. Maybe you should work your way up the corporate ladder and run in the rat race everyday.

But it's hard to argue with how happy he looked: A tee-ball coach, dishing hot-dogs to pint-sized players in the park on a beautiful Thursday evening. Suddenly, a call came from the food table.

"I think we need a few more hot dogs!"

The Cookin' Coach yelled. "Perfect! I've got about eight sitting here on the grill."


The Dental Hygienist

I met a Dental Hygienist today, and finally asked the one question I've always wanted to ask the people who clean my teeth.

"Do you guys ever play and pranks on the dentists?"

"Oh sure...I remember one time we surprised the dentist with his favorite cookie--Oreos. But before we gave him them, we ripped open the package, took out the cream filling from each Oreo, and then filled them all with toothpaste!"

That's perfect: A cookie and a cleaning, all in one bite!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Little Arsonist

The Little Arsonist is about seven years old, and on Sunday, he was playing with fire in the basement of his home. He lit a piece of paper with a lighter, and then put the paper in his drawer. Sadly, the drawer was made of wood, so one whole room of the basement went up in flames. I asked the cute little kid what he did when he saw the fire.

"The fire got really big, so I went over to my friends house and played games."

Trying to hold back a laugh, I asked "Will you ever play with fire again??"


"Why not?" I was expecting him to say something like "I almost burned my house down."

"'s no fun."

I love kids. :)

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Fireman

Today I learned something amazing about somebody. I was talking to a fireman, and asked him whether he became a fireman because of the good retirement benefits.

"No, it had nothing to do with money. Before this, my brother and I were actually pretty successful builders and realtors. We built a bunch of homes up in north Orem. We also built the Omni Dance club building....but then one night as I was laying in bed, I was thinking that, one day, I'm going to be really old. And I am going to look back on my life and think, 'What have I done for society? Is being a realtor all I've done? What was I going to tell my grandkids? At that moment, I changed careers and became a firefighter. I see it as a way of giving back, and when I old, I will be proud to say I served my community as a firefighter."

After we parted, I sat in my car for a while and wondered what will be my legacy? Will I be able to look back on my life and be proud of my service to others and my contribution to society?

I made the decision, then and there, that I would do everything in my power to make my future kids proud of their old man.

PS: He told me a pretty funny joke about how people love firefighters and don't like police. Here it is: How do you tell the difference between a firefighter and a cop? When people wave at firefighters, they wave with their whole hand. :)

Sunday, May 16, 2010


"Dude, I like those sunglasses! What kind are they?"

Shades looks up from the bulletin board he is reading. He is a huge Tongan guy.

"Oh, I don't know, they were cheap. My eyes suck without them. I bought them in San Diego...I came here last night."

"And what brings you here from San Diego?"

"Oh, I'm just here visiting my family."

I didn't learn a single thing from this guy...but who cares? It was fun to talk to him and I made a new friend. Plus it's not everyday you meet a huge Tongan guy named "Junior."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Wise Sage

"Hey, what does your hat say?" I asked.

He turns it around. "Oh, it just says ____ Bank Finance Division."

"So, are you in finance?"

"I've been a financial planner for over 30 years. I started at ____ Bank, but then moved on to greener pastures."

I asked him what it takes to be a good financial planner.

"Here's the thing. Like in every business, there are people who work hard at what they do, and they make a lot of money. There are people who are just okay, and they do all right. There are people to don't work hard, and they get out of the In the beginning, you make mistakes, and you lose your clients a lot money. But after about three months, you either learn or quit."

Work hard, do well. Just work, do okay. Don't try, quit. Pretty simple.

Another AMIGO!

This is a story from one of you. Thanks for the great response!

This blog inspired me to get out of my shell and get to know those around me. Here is my story:

The other day my wife and I were shooting hoops when out of the corner of my eye I saw a flying disc in a grassy field.

Then quicker than snot on a donkey another similar disc landed within 5 feet of the other at breakneck speed. Curious, I walked over, sure to avoid any other airborne instruments of death or at least internal bleeding.

I was met by a guy named Rusty whose name definitely does not reflect his Disc Golf skills. Also a resident of my apartment complex, Rusty has been a Disc Golf aficionado for the past year and a half and started in his native North Carolina.

He taught me how to throw like the pros do and the right way to aim. I never would have searched the internet for that knowledge but now I am glad I have it.

With the dimming sun and growing mosquito populaion as an audience, Rusty and I parted. I came away with the same feelings I had after meeting someone new on my mission, appreciation.

Thanks again for contributing the The Amigo Project!

Friday, May 14, 2010

The High School Sweetheart

"How long have you been married?" I asked him.

"Well, we got married in October, but we've been together for 9 years," he replied.

"That must mean you've been dating since high school!" I exclaimed.

"Yup, we met in a class in high school, and we wanted to wait until we were both graduated from college to get married. She's awesome."

In a day where passion is mistaken for love and cheating is plaguing our society, it's nice to see true, committed love still exists. Congratulations to The High School Sweetheart on your marriage, and thanks for reminding us that "and they lived happily ever after" isn't just for fairy tales.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Daughter

"Why are you taking a math class if you've already graduated college?" I asked The Daughter. She smelled of smoke.

"Listen, I'm 28, my psychology degree was worthless soI don't have a job, and I live in a house my parents own. In order for me to be able to teach in Utah, I need my teaching license. And I have to take this class to get it."

She explained she lives in a big home in an expensive resort town. She skis everyday...doesn't have to pay for anything. As she explained: "It's daddy's money."

It seemed like she had the perfect life.

"What a set-up," I said.

"Yeah, it's nice, but I need to break away. I'm sick of living off my parents...ya know?"

Independence is something we naturally crave. Whether we're 10 years old and want the freedom to our bikes to a gas station for a Slurpee, 16 and want the freedom to drive ourselves to prom, 28 and want the freedom to live on our own, or 88 and want the freedom to live on our own.

I hope The Daughter succeeds in transitioning into that next phase of independence. And if she needs someone to tend that resort house, she can call me up any time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Insurance Salesman

The Insurance Salesman is obviously a well-off man, about the age of 60-70. He owns his own office building, and has many clients. But he's only been in the industry for seven years.

"What did you do before this?"

"I've had five careers!" he exclaims.

"Well, which was your favorite?"

"My first career, when I was a farmer for 20 years! I loved being a farmer, but I couldn't support a family, and the business is very hard. When you're not farming, you're trying to find buyers for your product and haggling prices. The time commitment was hard on my family, so I switched. Now, I own five businesses."

If at first you don't succeed... :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Politician's Wife

Today I met the wife of a local politician. When I met her, she was standing in front of her torn-up lawn in the rain, with two of her kids playing in the mud.

I asked her what the hardest part about being a politician's wife is--expecting it to be something like "Everybody hates you." Instead, she said, "Actually, the hardest thing about being in politics is time. When my husband's not at work, he is at meetings...pretty much every weekend. So, on Saturday, instead of daddy playing ball with the kids, mommy is out there playing ball with them."

Noticing her torn-up lawn, I commented, "I see you've had some lawn issues..."

She told me her husband did something at a political meeting that other members didn't like, so they wrote an obscene word across her front lawn with laundry soap. She found it on Mother's Day morning.

I began to wonder how many times do I say things that might hurt others? How many times do I forget that each person is unique and loved by God? And suddenly, I realize: I write on lawns with laundry soap, too.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Financier

I met the Head of Finance for a large company today. He had the most beautiful pictures on the walls of his spacious office. Amazing portraits from all over the world. I asked him how he got to the position he is in.

"I started working at this company 15 years ago, when I was 15 years old, just doing computer stuff. I received more and more responsibility, and found I have a knack for finance."

I was so impressed at the dedication and hard-work that paid off for this man. I was also impressed at the beautiful art on his wall. I asked where he got them.

"Actually, I photographed all of these," he replied. "I do photography on vacations, and have taken pictures all over the world." These are all his photographs.

Thanks for teaching me a valuable lesson: Your life's work might revolve around money, but your life must revolve around something better.

To The Financier: Thanks for the photographs! You have an amazing talent.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Check Maker

The Check Maker works for a company that manufactures personal checks. I asked him what was the funniest personalized-check request he'd ever received.

"Probably this guy who made us write 'You're in speak English' on the top of all his personal checks. I mean think about it--he is racially insulting the person he is giving both his name, address and checking account number to!"


"The biggest mess up I've ever seen is when a lady called in and asked that her personal checks have the word 'Mrs. So-and-so' printed as her name. She ended up with checks that said 'Mistress So-and-so.' Needless to say, she was furious!"

Laughing at someone's funny story turns them into a hero for a second. In conversation, the most important thing is to make the other person feel important.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Green Thumb

Today I woke up early and did some service planting flowers for our city. I stopped and chatted with the man giving orders.

"You must love to plant flowers!"

He said he oversaw the entire city irrigation system, which is pretty cool. So I asked him how he got to that position.

"About 27 years ago, I bought a lawn mower and started mowing lawns. I guess I did a good job, because a couple of years later the city hired me to mow lawns. Now I'm the head of irrigation."

He saw I was impressed, so he told me more.

"Check this out: I can turn any sprinkler system on or off from the computer in my office."

This man started with nothing but a lawn mower and work ethic, and now he's runs the irrigation system of a 100,000+ person city.

Thanks, Green Thumb, for teaching me a valuable lesson: It doesn't matter what you do, but how you do it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Gym Dancers (Los Bialadores del Gymansio)

It's not every day you see a couple the middle of the gym.

"What are you doing?" I asked...even though I could already see what. What I really wanted to know was why.

"Dancing merengue!"

I asked if they would give me lessons right there, and they were happy to do so. So there we were, two native Hondurans and a white guy dancing merengue in the middle of the weight room at the gym (gyms on a Friday night are pretty sparsely it's not like we didn't have the room!). They were moving their hips, and spinning each other around...I was just trying to keep up.

" why are you dancing in the middle of the gym?"

They laughed. "Because it's better than dancing at home!" Of course.

"How so?"

They looked at each other, a bit puzzled. After an awkward pause we all laughed together as they replied "It just is!"

I want to thank those two Hondurans for teaching me a valuable lesson: It doesn't matter where you dance...just that you do it.

For my dance partners: Fue un gusto conocerles. Gracias a ustedes dos por ensenarme esta leccion! No significa donde se biala...solo importa que se biale! Nos vemos en el gymnasio!

Bob The Builder

Today I went off the beaten path...literally. I stepped into a construction site. There was a worker there throwing large stones across the path, about sixty years old.

"Well, you look like you're having a good time!" I said.

"Sure are you?"

"I'm doing okay," I replied.

"Well, that's your own fault!" He laughed.

"Whatcha doin?"

"Oh, just playin' in the dirt!"

I asked this happy man why he was a construction worker. He told me that when he was a little kid, he loved to play in the dirt, so working in construction was just a natural progression of what he'd always loved to do.

I shook his dusty hand, and hoped that someday I, too, can make a happy living by playin' in the dirt. Whatever "dirt" may be for me :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Inspired Lawyer

I met the Inspired Lawyer in his office today. In the midst of our conversation, I asked him how he had come to his chosen profession.

"I was a business major in college," he began. "One day, when I had about a year left in school, I was in my bishop's office wondering what to do with my life. He said, 'Maybe you should think about being a lawyer.' When he said that, I felt a very warm if God was telling me that was right."

He then went on the explain how he tried to apply to law school, but he was too late to take the LSAT. He thought that if being a lawyer was what God wanted him to do, he would be able to get in. So, he called the admissions office, and they made an exception for him. He took the LSAT, and then was awarded a scholarship.

Right as he said that, he laughed. "I was sold!"

What made it interesting was that, as he was telling me this, I remembered why I was there: to interview him about a horrible criminal he was defending. Heavenly Father made him a lawyer to defend criminals. It made me realize that even the scummiest people in this country need someone to represent them in our courts.

In the end, aren't we all criminals to the law of the Lord? And don't we all need the Savior to be our advocate...our defense attorney at the final judgement? Being an advocate for the defenseless just might be the most Christlike work of all.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Waitress Formerly Known as Janette

I had a hard time finding people to talk to today. There were cell phones everywhere. So I took my dog for a walk, and wandered into the tiny, run-down Chinese restaurant by my house. The place was empty, as usual.

"I'm just here to meet a neighbor!" I said.

The waitress was an older lady who spoke broken English. I asked her, "Are you Chinese?" to which she corrected me: "No, I'm Taiwanese!"

She said her name was Janette. Her husband was the cook of the restaurant, and he had been cooking for 30 years. She has been in the U.S. for 25 years, waitressing the restaurant for her husband.

I smiled: "Is Janette your real name?"

She leaned over the counter and smiled back: "No, my real name is a Chinese name. Too hard to pronounce. When I got here, I just liked the American name Janette, so I called myself that." And it stuck.

It's amazing the stories you find. She told me she hates it when people eat all their food, and then complain they don't like it. "I kicked a mean man out of here and said, 'Don't you ever come back!' when he didn't want to pay." She has even called the police on people, but doesn't anymore: "They don't come for 20-30 minutes!" she complains, laughing.

I told her my wife doesn't like Chinese food. She recommended the house cashew chicken for her.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Bee Keeper

It's not every day you find someone who has dedicated his whole life to bees. Seriously...bees. I met the Bee Keeper outside the city administration building today. He was tending to his hive.

"Sir, how exactly did you get into this? Why do you like bees?"

He laughed. "When I was a kid, I used to live on a cotton farm. There were bees everywhere. Then, I learned there were different types of honey, from blueberry to orange to smoked. Once I tried each of them, I became hooked. Bees are fascinating to me."

Wow, I thought. He must lead a boring life. Seriously. Bees. I was about to comment on this when he perked up.

"Yup, I've been all around the Jordan, Egypt, Syria, to teach bee-keeping classes and pollination lectures. In many nations, they need bee production to survive. Bees have allowed me to travel all around the world."

He taught me all about bees--how and why they are important, the hierarchy of the hive, and how to tame the killer ones.

It's not everyday you meet a guy who has seen the world on the backs of honeybees.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Indecisive Soldier

Airports are the best places to learn about people. They are either going somewhere or coming home, and are usually apt to talk about either of these events. A few, however, don't know where they're going--even though they have their boarding pass in hand.

I'm sitting near The Indecisive Soldier in an airport terminal. He's in full uniform, so I lean over, point to his uniform and start talking.

"Goin' home?"

He smiles. "Yup, on my way home."

He told me about his family: his fiancee whom he plans to marry in June, and a 17-year old daughter. He is in the National Guard, but wants to transfer to the Army. But there is a problem: his soon-to-be wife doesn't want him in the Army.

"Well, why do you want to join the Army then?"

His voice attains a level of pride I seldom hear. "I feel like I can contribute more in the Army. I don't keep going back (on tours) for the money--no soldier does. I go back because of a sense of duty, and because I want to be a part of a greater cause."

Duty. Pride. A greater cause. Sacred words to him that have become cliche to the rest of us.

"There is a special pride about wearing this uniform that civilians just don't understand."

Our boarding numbers are called, and we shake hands. I say the only words I can: "Thank you."

As I watched this modern-day Odysseus walk through the terminal, I wondered: Why are we uncomfortable about speaking of duty, pride, and a greater cause? And then it hits me: we have forgotten how to define them. The definitions have become lost in the excesses of our days--precisely because they don't exist in a dictionary. Rather, then can't exist in a dictionary. They are definitions of the heart. The world would be a better place if we stopped defining success based on money and fame, and defined it based on words like "honor" and "a greater cause." Only by doing that will their definitions ring inside us. Then we can look at the soldier sitting next to us, and understand him for the first time.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Dragon Slayer

People love to talk about what makes them happy. Even the shyest of people will talk your ear off if you ask the right questions.

I met the Dragon Slayer on a drizzly Saturday morning at an old, musty-smelling used bookstore near my house.

"I'm looking for Walden by Thoreau," I asked him. "Do you have it?"

He looked in his database and quietly said, "Nope, we don't have it here." I could tell he was uncomfortable.

"Hmm. Well, do you have any recommendations for me? What do you like to read?"

He perked up. It was like seeing a glimmer of light through a door-jam. "I like to read fantasy and science fiction."

I smiled. "You know, I've always wondered why people like science fiction and fantasy books. I've never read them." (To be honest, I'd always thought sci-fi and fantasy were kind of dorky--too many wizards and goblins and trolls and what not.) "Why do you like them?"

And with that question, the floodgates opened.

"I think that fantasy books just flow better," he explained. "The problem with non-fiction is author has to be so accurate and precise, that the story sometimes gets lost in all the facts. The author has to study so hard to make everything factual, that he sacrifices the flow of the story. Science fiction authors make everything up, so the story just flows from their minds to the page. Personally, I like books that flow, with a strong story-line. Let me recommend some to you!"

He recommended Isaac Asimov, then he described to me one of his favorites--a fantasy book called Dealing with Dragons.

"It's about a princess who has five other princess sisters...except, she's not a normal princess. When the other princesses are learning table manners and etiquette, she wants to learn to cook and fence," he excitedly describes in between phone-call interruptions. "But her father puts a stop to that. So she meets a talking frog--but he's not a prince in disguise, he's just a talking frog, you know?--who tells her to run away, and she does and becomes a maid for dragons. All the knights in shining armor want to slay the dragon and save her, but when they get there, she turns them away, because she actually likes living with the dragons!" He laughs and hopes I see the irony. I do.

"So, in this book," he continues, "the two things that have magic are wizards and dragons. The wizards have magic through their staffs."

He picks up a nearby broom and holds it up to give me a visual.

"And the dragons make magic internally." He smiles.

I have to ask, "So, when did you start reading fantasy books?"

"Well, most children's books are fantasy books," he explains, "so it just was a natural transition for me." He starts to chuckle. "In fact, my parents used to bribe me with money to read, because I never wanted to. But then I got hooked, and I would stay up late and read and read and read!"

The Dragon Slayer taught me something I had never realized before. Sometimes, we tend to get so hung up on facts and figures, that we neglect the inherent beauty in a creative work of art. It seems that, in our society, to know more is of higher value than to dream more. But they are of equal importance. Knowing scientific facts helped the Wright brothers build their airplane, but it was creative passion that gave them the dream in the first place. Was Benjamin Franklin, the famous lightning tamer, any less of a wizard than Gandalf? How is flying in a plane any different from flying on a broomstick? For one second, let's stop looking at our great technological advances as parts and pieces, and start looking at them for what they really are: magic.

All of the sudden, wizards and knight and dragons and magic don't seem so far fetched now, do they?