Cheaters never win.
The man in the diner folded his newspaper and muttered, “Bull#$%. Nice guys finish last.” Since 2008, Bob Hammond’s faith in just about everything had been kicked in the groin. Wall Street. Big banks. Politicians (well, he knew they lied). Tiger Woods. Now Lance Armstrong.
The former cyclist and cancer survivor had inspired Bob while he fought his own cancer. Last night’s confession to Oprah had made Bob’s cancer scar burn with disgust.
He took a sip of his coffee and nearly spit it out. The boiling liquid scalded the roof of his mouth. “Good Lord, Maggie! Are you trying to kill me?”
The pain sent knives into his brain.
It was 6 a.m. and Bob was getting ready for his 7 a.m. shift. The past two years had been rough at the plant. His pay had been cut in half and his benefits cut. He now worked as a night watchman at the local big-box store to make ends meet. His daughter was about to head to college. He didn’t want to strangle her dreams with huge student loan debt. She was a smart girl. Pretty like her mother and full of personality. What kind of world was he leaving to her? She deserved better than this. “What is this world coming to?” he muttered out loud.
He used to listen to the guy on the radio rant about how bad things were and whose fault it was. About six months ago, he turned it off. He knew that all that guy was doing was using his fear to gin up ratings. It would be really easy to think things were hopeless. But in his heart, he knew better. This was America. And for all her faults, she still was the land of opportunity. He drank coffee. Not Kool Aid.
“Want me to freshen that up, Bob? So I can kill you some more?” Maggie was the friendliest waitress at the diner and probably the hardest working person Bob knew. Silver strands of wisdom flecked her raven hair. She probably was 40, tall, thin and extremely wise. She, too, had a daughter entering college. And she also worked a couple of jobs to stretch the paycheck to cover the month.
Maggie grinned and said, “President says we need to create jobs. That’s awesome. I could use a third.” Both laughed Maggie’s gallows humor.
“Do you ever get depressed, Maggie?” Bob put the paper down and put a fork-full of eggs in his mouth.
“Some days. But I don’t stay that way long. No time for it really. I have too much to do.”
“Well, I do.” Bob knew his brain was like a garden. It grew amazing crops but also grew some pretty big weeds. “It has been rough since Hannah left.”
Maggie shuffled uncomfortably. She knew that Bob’s wife had left him. She didn’t know the circumstances, but she thought she had overhead the word “breakdown.”
“I’m sorry Bob.” What else could she say? ”Being a single parent is one of the most difficult and rewarding jobs out there. And from the looks of it, you’re doing a fine job.”
“Could always do better,” Bob sighed. Maggie stopped, smiled and nodded. She knew the challenges from her own daughter. Her husband Steve had run away with the church secretary three years ago. Catching them in her bed was the lowest moment of her life. But she had bounced back. She always did.
Bob took another sip of his coffee and thought about his work. His boss and gotten a new company car right after he had lost his salary. ”Well, at least it went somewhere it could do some good.” he muttered out loud. He talked to himself frequently these days.
It was 6:15 and the first rays of the run were peeking over the city’s skyline. Dark shadows reached toward the dinner and toward Bob’s soul.
Maggie walked over to her customer and put her hand on his. “Bob, it’s going to be OK. The only thing holding you back is you keep looking back. Stop it. We’re in a moment of great change. Your great great grandparents experienced it during the Industrial Revolution. Imagine how scared they must have been. And look what your grandparents did during World War 2. Lord knows their world was rocked. This is our test. This is our time to change things. There have been too many participation trophies. There have been too many Bernie Madoffs and Lance Armstrongs that have succeeded by cheating. No longer can we succeed without working hard. Bob, it’s time to show the world that a good man CAN and WILL win. Go today and work hard. Work hard tonight. And tomorrow. Smile and make a difference in other people’s lives. You’ve made a difference in mine. Keep it up. And keep being a positive role model for that beautiful girl of yours.”
Bob straightened his back and smiled, “You’re pretty when you’re wise, Maggie. Thank you.”
Maggie grinned, “Say thank you by leaving me a big tip.”
The rising sun’s warming rays flooded the small diner and chased all the shadows away. Bob left a $20 next to his plate and smiled at the raven-haired angel behind the counter.
“See you tomorrow, Bob.”
“If I’m lucky,” Bob cheerfully said as he walked into a new day full of opportunity.