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Something for Stevie ... A Truckers Story

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I try not to be biased, but I had my doubts about hiring Stevie. His
placement counselor assured me that he would be a good, reliable busboy.
But I had never had a mentally handicapped employee and wasn't sure I
wanted one. I wasn't sure how my customers would react to Stevie. He
was short, a little dumpy with the smooth facial features and thick-tongued
speech of Downs Syndrome. I wasn't worried about most of my trucker
customers because truckers don't generally care who buses tables as long
as the meatloaf platter is good and the pies are homemade. The four-
wheeler drivers were the ones who concerned me; the mouthy college
kids traveling to school; the yuppie snobs who secretly polish their
silverware with their napkins for fear of catching some dreaded "truck
stop germ" the pairs of white-shirted business men on expense accounts
who think every truck stop waitress wants to be flirted with. I knew those
people would be uncomfortable around Stevie so I closely watched him for
the first few weeks.

I shouldn't have worried. After the first week, Stevie had my staff
wrapped around his stubby little finger, and within a month my truck
regulars had adopted him as their official truck stop mascot. After that,
I really didn't care what the rest of the customers thought of him. He was
like a 21-year-old in blue jeans and Nikes, eager to laugh and eager to
please, but fierce in his attention to his duties. Every salt and pepper
shaker was exactly in its place, not a bread crumb or coffee spill was
visible when Stevie got done with the table.


Our only problem was persuading him to wait to clean a table until after
the customers were finished. He would hover in the background, shifting
his weight from one foot to the other, scanning the dining room until a
table was empty. Then he would scurry to the empty table and carefully
bus dishes and glasses onto cart and meticulously wipe the table up with a
practiced flourish of his rag. If he thought a customer was watching, his
brow would pucker with added concentration. He took pride in doing his job
exactly right, and you had to love how hard he tried to please each and
every person he met.

Over time, we learned that he lived with his mother, a widow who was
disabled after repeated surgeries for cancer. They lived on their Social
Security benefits in public housing two miles from the truck stop. Their
social worker, who stopped to check on him every so often, admitted they
had fallen between the cracks. Money was tight, and what I paid him was
probably the difference between them being able to live together and
Stevie being sent to a group home.

That's why the restaurant was a gloomy place that morning last August, the
first morning in three years that Stevie missed work. He was at the Mayo
Clinic in Rochester getting a new valve or something put in his heart. His
social worker said that people with Downs Syndrome often have heart
problems at an early age so this wasn't unexpected, and there was a good
chance he would come through the surgery in good shape and be back at
work in a few months.

A ripple of excitement ran through the staff later that morning when word
came that he was out of surgery, in recovery, and doing fine. Frannie, the
head waitress, let out a war hoop and did a little dance in the aisle when
she heard the good news. Belle Ringer, one of our regular trucker
customers, stared at the sight of this 50-year-old grandmother of four
doing a victory shimmy beside his table. Frannie blushed, smoothed her
apron and shot Belle Ringer a withering look.

He grinned. "OK, Frannie, what was that all about?" he asked.

"We just got word that Stevie is out of surgery and going to be okay."

"I was wondering where he was. I had a new joke to tell him. What was the
surgery about?"

Frannie quickly told Belle Ringer and the other two drivers sitting at his
booth about Stevie's surgery, then sighed: "Yeah, I'm glad he is going to
be OK," she said. "But I don't know how he and his Mom are going to
handle all the bills. From what I hear, they're barely getting by as it is."
Belle Ringer nodded thoughtfully, and Frannie hurried off to wait on the
rest of her tables.

Since I hadn't had time to round up a busboy to replace Stevie and really
didn't want to replace him, the girls were busing their own tables that
day until we decided what to do. After the morning rush, Frannie walked
into my office. She had a couple of paper napkins in her hand and a funny
look on her face.

"What's up?" I asked.

"I didn't get that table where Belle Ringer and his friends were sitting
cleared off after they left, and Pony Pete and Tony Tipper were sitting
there when I got back to clean it off," she said. "This was folded and
tucked under a coffee cup." She handed the napkin to me, and three $20
bills fell onto my desk when I opened it. On the outside, in big, bold
letters, was printed "Something For Stevie. Pony Pete asked me what that
was all about," she said, "so I told him about Stevie and his Mom and
everything, and Pete looked at Tony and Tony looked at Pete, and they
ended up giving me this." She handed me another paper napkin that had
"Something For Stevie" scrawled on its outside. Two $50 bills were tucked
within its folds. Frannie looked at me with wet, shiny eyes, shook her
head and said simply: "truckers."

That was three months ago. Today is Thanksgiving, the first day Stevie is
supposed to be back to work. His placement worker said he's been
counting the days until the doctor said he could work, and it didn't matter
at all that it was a holiday. He called 10 times in the past week, making
sure we knew he was coming, fearful that we had forgotten him or that his
job was in jeopardy. I arranged to have his mother bring him to work. I
then met them in the parking lot and invited them both to celebrate his day
back.

Stevie was thinner and paler, but couldn't stop grinning as he pushed
through the doors and headed for the back room where his apron and
busing cart were waiting.

"Hold up there, Stevie, not so fast," I said. I took him and his mother by
their arms. "Work can wait for a minute. To celebrate you coming back,
breakfast for you and your mother is on me!"

I led them toward a large corner booth at the rear of the room. I could
feel and hear the rest of the staff following behind as we marched through
the dining room. Glancing over my shoulder, I saw booth after booth of
grinning truckers empty and join the procession. We stopped in front of
the big table. Its surface was covered with coffee cups, saucers and
dinner plates, all sitting slightly crooked on dozens of folded paper
napkins.

"First thing you have to do, Stevie, is clean up this mess," I said. I
tried to sound stern. Stevie looked at me, and then at his mother, then
pulled out one of the napkins. It had "Something for Stevie" printed on
the outside. As he picked it up, two $10 bills fell onto the table. Stevie
stared at the money, then at all the napkins peeking from beneath the
tableware, each with his name printed or scrawled on it. I turned to his
mother. "There's more than $10,000 in cash and checks on table, all from
truckers and trucking companies that heard about your problems. "Happy
Thanksgiving."

Well, it got real noisy about that time, with everybody hollering and
shouting, and there were a few tears, as well. But you know what's funny?
While everybody else was busy shaking hands and hugging each other,
Stevie, with a big, big smile on his face, was busy clearing all the cups
and dishes from the table. Best worker I ever hired.
 
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