Watson: Unusual sips

Scott Watson

I was late, as usual, to study and meet my friend for coffee at Cafe Diem in downtown Ames. Swiftly stalking down the sidewalk, attempting to conjure an excuse for my tardiness, I approached a small huddle of ragged-looking, old black men hanging around some benches when one reached out and stopped me.

“Sir, let me ask you something,” said the man in a thick Southern accent I can’t phonetically do justice and whose name I would come to find out was Vince. “If you saw a man was really down and out, would you help him out?” I was reluctant, noticing the Subway cup in his hand and the smell of vodka radiating around in a cloud around him like buzzards over trash. I only had a few dollars, as usual.

“How do I know you really need it and aren’t just hustling me?” I asked.

“Well, I guess you don’t know, man. You just gotta have faith; the Lord will guide you right,” he said.

Now, I was intrigued; was this merely a gimmick to sucker me into giving him money, or had I just encountered the most brutally-honest hobo this side of the Mason-Dixon? I was curious, as usual.

A brief conversation ensued about how God works in our lives. At some point in this conversation, Vince’s friends meandered away, and we retreated to a nearby bench.

He took a sip from his cup.

For the next 40 minutes, we talked about life and the experiences he’s had. We discussed everything from racism during the Civil Rights Movement to religion and addiction in later days.

He shared some fantastic stories about playing professional basketball and hitchhiking across America. I wondered if any of it was true. He talked incessantly of his woes and wanderings, stopping occasionally to say hi to strangers.

Taking sips all the while.

“Life is all what you make it.” Continuing, he said, “You can sit there and be bitter all your life ‘cause something don’t go your way, or you can choose to have a positive impact on those around you.”

Immediately after sharing these sentiments, a lady with a floppy, pink sun hat walked out of a store. “That’s a lovely hat you have there, ma’am.”

The lady gave a warm thanks and continued her life.

“Ya see there?” said Vince. “It didn’t matter if I liked the hat or not, but saying I did probably made her day. I could’ve said, ‘ma’am, that’s a real shitty-looking hat,’ and she would’ve never worn it again and felt like a dumbass for wearing it first-off, but what good’s that do?”

He took a sip in response to his own rhetoric.

We sat in silence a few moments, contemplating our conversation and enjoying the nice weather. I was more than an hour late; my continuously-vibrating pocket reminded me my friend noticed.

Maybe some people don’t have it all figured out. This guy seemed to have nothing to offer anyone but a compliment. I don’t think most people even offer that on a daily basis despite having infinitely more resources.

Maybe he is a drunkard, hobo and liar who never quite got life figured out, but he knows a thing or two about life most people seem to have forgotten long ago.

I took out my wallet and handed him all $4 on my person. He took a sip from his cup.

It was an unusually well-spent $4.

Scott Watson is a senior in communication studies from Ventura, Iowa.