The Road of Good Intentions: A Good Deed Gone Undone

It was hot and we were tired, Loren and I. We stopped at the first exit off the freeway about halfway between our origin and destination points, and entered the only restaurant around. At first glance it didn’t seem to be much more than a diner and I wasn’t expecting the food to be anything other than mushy
overcooked vegetables and thin, rubbery “steak”. He was driving the moving truck, and I was towing along behind in my car…with our cat.

We pulled in on a hot June evening after a full day of loading this final truck and cleaning our house. We had sat our keys on the counter and locked the door behind us for the last time. We then pulled out of the driveway and hit the road, leaving behind this now “old” house and old life to begin a new chapter.

Selling our home and moving away from Seattle came as an unexpectedly easy decision. The steps that followed in the process fell right into place, solidifying in our minds the rightfulness of this choice. We first mentally decided to move. We had not mulled over doing so before the moment we spoke the desire out loud to each other last March. There were no job prospects to be seen, plus there was our home to sell and lives to uproot, but we knew it was where we wanted to be. A week or so after the mental decision Loren found an open position and applied, at the very last minute, as it was closing the next day. He was called for an interview two weeks later, and a week after that called again and offered the job. We immediately put our home on the market and it sold in just thirty-six hours after listing it. We found another in the new town right away. We put in the offer and it was accepted that evening.

So this was the final goodbye to the big city, the pomp, the circumstance, the Joneses of Microsoft. Goodbye to five-dollar coffees at Starbucks in the car through rush hour traffic. Goodbye to incessant extracurricular sports and programs for your children. Goodbye to the rain. Goodbye to death.

Hello to small town values, and good old-fashioned neighborly chats. Hello to coffee on your front porch every morning. Hello to family time, and to walks around the block to the park. Hello to the sun and warmth. Hello to new beginnings.

Feeling not the least bit melancholy after leaving the place we called home for the last six years, the only place Miss Elliott had ever known, the place Skylar had come to call home, all I felt was relief and excitement for what lied ahead in life.

We sat at a booth and the waitress brought each of us a cup of coffee. Standard practice at this restaurant, it came along with the ice water. It was good. Really good. I expected pale, stale, bitter coffee, but it was robust and sweet. I got up to use the restroom a few minutes later.

When I walked in, the waitress who had poured our coffees was standing between the toilet stalls and the sink on her cell phone. She looked up at me like a deer caught in the headlights of a car careening right for her. I didn’t mean to eaves drop, but in a ten-by-ten room, one couldn’t help it.

“Ok,” she said. “Well can pick it up on Monday? I know, I know, but I really need it and… Ok, well a customer just walked in and I had to step away from the hostess station, so I really gotta go.”

The door opened and closed. I came out to wash my hands and she was gone. I left the restroom and there she was, still on her phone in the abbreviated hallway between the door and the booths of customers. I smiled, but she averted her eyes and looked somewhat embarrassed. I can’t remember now what she was saying as I passed by her, but I do remember that she seemed very distraught. I sat back down. A few minutes later she came by to take our order. She smiled in a professional manner as if nothing had happened only a few moments ago. She was polite, courteous, demure.

I told Loren what happened. Our food arrived and it was delicious. My salad was crisp and fresh with just the right amount of dressing. My soup and homemade garlic toast were excellently flavored. Loren’s prime rib was cooked to perfection. As I ate I couldn’t help but wonder why this woman was so worried and what was wrong. I decided that I wanted to help her. In my life with Miss Elliott, it was always the kindnesses given to us by perfect strangers that stuck with me the most. I think it’s because we probably have some sort of general expectation that friends and family will offer help or look out for us, but that it heightens our gratitude when the help comes from a completely unexpected source. When it comes from someone who owes us nothing at all.

On my napkin (the only paper I had available) I wrote this:

To the waitress I came across on her cell phone in the bathroom (I didn’t know her name.) I don’t know what’s wrong, but hopefully this might help. (I was going to slip in a twenty dollar bill.) We can all use a helping hand once in a while.

I decided I would leave it on the table at the end of our meal. When I showed it to Loren he didn’t find it to be appropriate at all. Even though he understood I had the best of intentions he thought many things about my note.

1. What if the note didn’t make it to the person I intended it to go to?
2. What if it got her into trouble for stepping away from her station and talking on her phone
3. What if it was condescending and presumptuous? What if whatever was going on had nothing to do with money.

He was right. It was presumptuous of me. Coming from a place of genuine concern and generosity, as it was, or not, it just wasn’t my place to interfere, and I certainly didn’t want to inadvertently offend her.  It’s a fine line, caring, that is. It’s easy to consider everything that happens with anyone else “not my problem”, but when should it be? Conversely, it’s also easy to let yourself get swept up into everyone else’s problems. When should one step in? Most people usually agree that at the sight of abuse, neglect, or wrong doing, it would be appropriate to step in, but what about situations that aren’t so clear? When does trying to do a good deed cross the line? When does it fall short or even on deaf ears?

We finished our meal, paid, and left. I tucked the note into my purse and took it along with me, never revealing it to the waitress. An attempt at a good deed gone undone. Would you have left the note?

I had good intentions that evening…but we all know what road is paved with those.

2 thoughts on “The Road of Good Intentions: A Good Deed Gone Undone

  1. erin

    I totally see where you were coming from, and your husband as well. Forgive me for sounding like I am chastising or judging your actions. IMHO the money could have been left for her without comment. No judgment or assuming, no potential for trouble with management, handed directly to her in a note.

    Sometimes there are things we “just know”. I “know” that our grocery store manager befriended my child and took us up to his office to pick out some Matchbox cars as he had observed a difficult visit or two, frazzled mom & tired child at the end of a long day. I “know” as a server that when a certain group of men (excluding the preceding ‘gentle’ here) came to my station after a weekly game of golf and were loud & obnoxious that my tips at all of my surrounding tables increased because others pitied me. I bet if the money were left without comment the server would “just know”.

    There are plenty of people that like to help but don’t like to give money as they can’t have total confidence that it will go for good & perhaps will go for bad. Though I didn’t note reference to this in your post, that may have been a legit reason to hesitate, as well.

    I understand that the post doesn’t revolve around $20, per se. But, yes, that road to you-know-where. Perhaps the server is full of good intent but having a hard time turning it into action and may benefit from reading your post?

    Your writing is always thought-provoking. It’s great that you were able to have confidence in your decision to re-locate and that things fell into place. Best of luck.

    1. erin

      I apologize, these words escaped me before. I didn’t want to make it sound like my thought should have been a foregone conclusion, or the only right one. I think the only way I came up w/ what I did is getting caught on similar (?) phone calls by similar kindhearted people as yourself/ves. Again, thank you for your writing.


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