Of All the Gin Joints…

Down the road from my office is a bar called the Creekside.  It’s nothing special from the outside, and not much more on the inside.  I had seen it several times in passing before I ever stopped there – towards the end of last year for a billiards league match.  That evening I enjoyed a great pizza there, and I remembered that a couple of weeks later when I was hungry at lunchtime.  

I stopped there a few times for lunch over the next few months.   It’s usually pretty quiet mid-day and I can read on the patio without looking like a freak to too many people.  I generally bring a couple of Biblical commentaries to read through in preparation for writing Sunday’s sermon.  It’s nice to be sort of outside, usually with the enclosed patio to myself.   I’ll have water or sometimes a Coke with my pizza.  I’m sure that it would be considered an odd choice of lunch locale for someone in my line of work, but that’s partly why I like it.
I stopped in yesterday for the first time in a couple of months.  I sat down at an unoccupied end of the bar and waited for the bartender to take care of a couple other customers before making her way down to me.  One of these folks was a man a couple years my senior who came in and sat down a couple of bar stools away.  Jeans and a polo-style shirt, but he had a different air about him than some of the folks you find in a bar at mid-day.  This guy had been doing things this morning, productive things.  And he had more productive things to do after this stop.  But for now, he was stopped.  He was looking for a tequila, and since I have an interest in that arena I was watching to see what he’d end up with.  He downed the shot quickly and asked for another one.
Good choice on that tequila.  He nodded.  “That first shot was for me,” he said.  “This next shot is in honor of my dad who died this morning.”  The bartender and I extended our condolences.  She lined up his next shot, confirmed my order and moved to the other end of the bar.
He eyed the shot for several moments.  How did he pass?   “Heart attack.  He was 93.”  Do you still have your mother?  “Oh yeah, she lives down in Florida,which is where I live half the year looking after her.  The other half of the year I’m here working.  They divorced years ago.  Dad was on his third marriage.”
Turns out he’s loss prevention sub-contractor for a local cable company.   He manages a crew and actually works for one of his brothers.   His job is to catch employees not doing their jobs.  We commiserated and marveled how in the midst of massive unemployment, people can be so stupid as to engage in illegal activities on the job or with their job.  
Are you headed back to Ohio for a service?  “I guess the church my dad was a part of at the end of his life doesn’t do funerals.  They do this thing called a Life Celebration – they did that before he died actually.  But my family is all pretty traditional Baptist.  We’ll have a memorial service for him at some point.”  That’s a good thing – you need that kind of closure.
His cell phone rang.  A business call.  He stepped away and I continued to wait for my food.  He returned a few moments later.  He downed the second shot and began gathering his stuff together.  “I don’t even know who you are, but here you are all friendly and concerned.  My name’s Ben.”  I’m Paul.  It’s good to meet you.  His handshake was firm and strong.   “I hope I see you here again.  I stop in here from time to time when I’m in town.”  Well, here’s my business card in case you want to look me up the next time you’re in town.  
He squinted for a moment at the card before unfolding his glasses and putting them on.  His eyes were pretty moist at this point.  He squinted through the fragile glass disks at the card with my name and the name of my congregation on it.  Then he turned and looked at me again, eyes brimming, and shook his head with a half-smile.  He seemed to be trying to think of something to say, but not really finding it.  God works in funny ways.  Drive safe.  He waved and nodded and moved quickly out of the room. 
I wondered about Ben for a while as I half read on the patio.  What a loving Father we have, constantly looking after us and stepping into our lives through other people when we least expect it.  I prayed he would drive safely, and that he would derive peace from his odd encounter at a bar counter on a Friday afternoon.  I know I do.

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