We took turns introducing Project Wildness and our mission – Good Inspires Good. Greetings and handshakes lead to stories and conversations. One person said, “You always hear about things like this, but never expect it to happen to you.” Another commented, “You picked the perfect place to do this. All the locals love this place. Every year the owners threaten to retire, but we won’t let them!”
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By picking up extra shifts on holidays, weekends, and nights James has set aside money to build his own recording studio in his home. “I just wish I could be an artist full time,” James said. This was our cue. Nate handed over a bill and said, “We want to help you get a little closer to your dream. Use this on your boys or whatever you see fit.”
The first driver placed his ticket on the counter with his phone to his ear. “Your meals are paid for,” the young lady told him. He looked at her with a furrowed brow, paused, and then spoke into his phone, “Hey, can I call you back?” He flashed his confused look around the restaurant and looked back to his server. “Wait, what? Are you joking?” he asked. “Not at all. It’s been paid for,” she told the man with a smile.
“Enjoying life, huh?” Nate asked. “I’m livin’ the dream but it ain’t mine,” Steve replied. “I’m just not sure whose it is, but it ain’t mine!” he joked. A long laugh burst through Steve’s perpetual smile. “Well, it seems like you’re enjoying it while you’re at it,” Nate said. “You got to!” Steve said with big eyes. “If you don’t, life sucks! Right?”
There are three things that Marty truly loves – trees, conversation, and coffee. Over a short period of time we learned quite a lot about Marty’s dreams and goals – how she wanted to improve her motel and, “…attract nice people like you guys.” Marty also shared stories about her family as well as some tales of her more unusual guests. As we pulled out of the parking lot one thing was apparent – Marty was a character, but few people are as genuine as her.
We looked at each other with wide eyes and dropped jaws as LouAnne continued talking. Her voice seemed distant for a minute as we processed what we’d just heard. Nate shook his head in disbelief and his eyes welled up for a second. “Wait, your granddaughter was born with a congenital heart defect?” Nate asked.
Nate approached the street light musician and asked, “Have you had any luck?” The musician replied, “No, not really.” He adjusted the guitar strap a bit as if he were shifting a heavy burden on his back. “A few cars have gone by, but nothing yet.” He gently placed the well-aged instrument back in its case – seemingly held together by hundreds of stickers. “Do you need anything?” Nate asked, gesturing toward the gas station.
Leon looked big and well built. Mid-30s. He had dark eyes that reflected the little bit of low light left hanging on to the evening. “How you doing?” Nate asked. Leon looked up from his spot on the patio. With a pensive look at the floor and then back at us, he answered, “Umm… Not too well.” Leon returned a Black & Mild to his lips and inhaled slowly. We sat down next to him.
After what was probably the most thorough car wash we have ever seen, we paid what we thought the wash was worth. Based on the Marine’s response that was the biggest bill they had received all day. In their eyes we might have overpaid, but from our perspective, we could never pay them enough for all they do and all that they sacrifice.
“We don’t need change. We want to help you get to New York,” Nate said. Linda was silent for a second and then a single tear rolled down her cheek. She seemed stunned but came out from behind the table. “Can I give you a hug?” she asked. More tears. Her embrace was honest and expressed an unspoken deep appreciation. “Thank you. Just thank you,” she finished.
Being part of this community was inspiring to say the least. As we struggled to eat our massive portions of delectable food, Shane turned to Nate and said, “I think we should pay all the open tabs in this place.” With a mouth full of shrimp PoBoy, Nate could only nod in agreeance. Debra, one of the cooks, met Shane at the cash register and asked, “Are the two sandwiches together?” Shane replied, “Yes they are, and I’d also like to pay for everyone else’s tabs as well.” Debra looked at Shane with bewilderment and in a soft, southern drawl said, “Excuse me?” Shane repeated his request with a smile to which Debra could only say, “Well that is the nicest thing I have ever seen.”
In a short walk down 6th Street, we brushed elbows with more tattooed, cooler than us 20-somethings than we’d seen since Portland, their hair perfectly unkempt and clothes just vintage enough. But just as prominent as the Austin hipster was a group of people just as noticeable but less advertised: Austin’s homeless.
But one particular Dallas experience couldn’t have aligned itself better with some of our donors’ requests. Kelsey and Jonathan share a passion for service and actively volunteer with the International Rescue Committee (IRC), an organization that responds to humanitarian crises and helps those involved return to lives of safety and opportunity. We also happened to visit Dallas just days before World Refugee Day, and Kelsey invited us to join them at an IRC-sponsored celebration event.
On a hot Oklahoma City day, we found ourselves somberly sipping ice cold drinks waiting for a couple of burgers at The Garage Burgers and Beer. A better part of the morning was spent touring the former site of the Oklahoma City Bombing and current site of the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We weren’t sure exactly what to expect prior to the memorial and museum. With vague memories of news coverage in our minds faded by over two decades of life we entered the exhibits and traveled back in time to April 19, 1995; the time was 9:01 AM.
Nate put his scrounger skills to the test and scored an excellent deal on the north side of town. The Oak Tree Inn appeared to be just what we needed to rinse off and head to the festival. We approached the check in desk, and a woman at the counter looked up with distressed eyes and an exhausted smile. “How can I help you?” she asked politely. “Just checking in,” Nate replied. From there, we found out the story behind a face that looked so overwhelmed.
We went back to the work at hand – jamming away on our laptop keyboards for a minute when Shane looked up and said, “I think we should recognize her for doing good.” Nate, without hesitation, responded with a simple, but assured, “Yup.” We quickly devised a plan to leave an envelope with a note, some stickers, and a gift on her car while she was in a local shop. As Nate wrote the note, Shane prepped the envelope and assured the waitress we would be right back and that we were not skipping out on our bill.