I didn’t go into the office on Good Friday. In fact, I have never worked on Good Friday, but rarely has my decision to play hooky had such a gripping impact on me. I began the morning with the breakfast special at the Char Bar on Lower Greenville—eggs over medium, patty sausage, hash browns, white toast with butter and strawberry jam, and a bottomless cup of really good coffee. The fact that I was studying the book of Joshua with a friend made it that much better.
When we were finished, I reluctantly peeled myself away from the red vinyl, said my goodbyes to the Melios brothers, and headed for another favorite place, Jimmy’s Food Store. After I bought Jimmy out of pizza products, I headed for my car. I’m not sure what it is about me (maybe I shouldn’t have had SUCKER tattooed on my forehead all those years ago), but I attract the homeless like a juicy steak attracts Sunny (our labrador, who can eat a full grown tree, given the chance).
From over my shoulder I could hear, “Sir, I don’t want your money. I don’t want your money, I’m just hungry.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard those words, but normally, that’s just the bait that precedes the inevitable switch.This time, however, it felt different. I was in a great mood, the weather was perfect, and I was preparing for an Easter weekend with my family.
“My name is Gregory. I’m from Louisiana, and I’d love to get a hot meal” he said, pointing to the Quick Mart across the street.
Gregory was about my age, maybe a few years younger. He needed a shave and a shower, but he had caring eyes and a strong handshake. We walked across the street together and for the next 25 minutes we talked as the cashier built Gregory a breakfast plate. He told me what Good Friday and Easter Sunday meant to him, and what it was like for a homeless man to find a hot meal and a shower. He told me about his job search, and how the men who robbed him last year stabbed him, broke his jaw, and took everything that linked him to the world—ID, social security card, money, everything.
Gregory was articulate and knowledgeable. He was also something that I didn’t expect: hopeful.
We boxed up his food. When I placed the change from my $20 in his coat pocket, he melted. Maybe because it was an unexpected gesture in a calloused world, or maybe because the $12 in change was the exact amount he needed for a 24-hour bed and shower just down the street; whatever it was, it made an impact on us both. The tears that streamed down my new friend’s cheeks (OK, mine, too) reminded me that it really didn’t take all that much effort to change his morning—or mine.
What in the world does Gregory have to do with data centers? To be honest, I have no idea. I thought about how his lack of government issued ID would keep him out of 95 percent of the data centers in the country. I assure you, he wouldn’t care. I thought about the server that holds the digital image of his birth certificate; the certificate that will ultimately be printed and sent to the shelter that he frequents and then be used to restore his identity.
Gregory has physical scars from the “hackers” who stole his identity and his ability to apply for a job; scars that are not too different from those left by the cyber thugs that do the same thing online every day. I thought about his deep knowledge of scripture, despite not having ever surfed the web, and can-do attitude, in spite of his seemingly hopeless surroundings. It reminded me of how I allowed the tech crash to get me down in the spring of 2002—shame on me.
When Gregory hugged me before we went our separate ways, it felt like I was hugging one of my sons or maybe my dad; it was a very human connection in my all-too-often non-human world of computers servers, stark white floors, and high security. I recommend it every now and then.
It had taken me a few extra seconds to get into my car that morning because I couldn’t immediately get to my keys. Gregory told me that delay gave him just enough time to cross the street and ask for help. I am so glad for that seemingly inconsequential delay—it changed my weekend.
I’ll get back to stories about family car rides and gardening mishaps in my next RealPoints post—maybe even something intriguing about the data center world. But for now, I hope you didn’t mind the diversion.