Chad wandered along the streets of San Francisco marvelling at the sheer beauty and charm that surrounded him. What a great place. He had been sent to a conference and on the advice of friends and co-workers had arranged to spend a couple of extra days doing some sightseeing and taking in the ambiance of a world-class city. Having spent all his life in Des Moines he had no real experience of the wider world around him.
So it was he found himself strolling along Columbus Avenue of a late afternoon enjoying the funky charm of Little Italy. He came to a bar called Vesuvio. He glanced at the name of the alley it abutted, Jack Kerouac Alley. Wow. This was true west coast history right before his eyes. A few yards further up was City Lights Bookstore.
The bar had true beatnik ambiance; young people and old men lounged with studied indolence drinking cheap red wine and playing leisurely games of chess or reading Sartre and Camus.
When in Rome, do as the Romans, he thought and went inside and ordered a glass of Chianti. He took it to a small table on the sidewalk and sat down to watch the street parade that never ended in this Shangri-La of the west.
As he sipped his wine a small man dressed in grubby clothes with a beanie on his head limped along down the hill, his eyes vacant and forlorn, his hands hanging limp at his sides. He seemed to falter as he drew nearer to Chad’s table and stumbled as he passed. He grabbed the edge of the table to steady himself, and Chad’s wine began to tip over. As he reached out to grab it the sad little man let go of the table and banged into his shoulder.
“Oh, I’m so sorry mister, I tripped, I did. Please pardon me. Is your wine alright?”
Chad put his glass down and looked the vagabond over.
“Yes, no problem. Are you all right? You seem unwell.”
“Don’t mind me, mister. I’m just…don’t mind me…”
He started to move on and Chad felt a pang of empathy. Before he could stop himself he called the man back.
“Hey, friend, can I buy you something to eat? Maybe a drink?”
The man stopped in his tracks and seemed to be considering. At last he turned and smiled.
“Well that’s very kind of you. I am rather hungry.”
Chad motioned for a waiter and told him to bring his guest whatever he liked. The man ordered a sandwich and beer.
“My name is Chad.”
“Nice to meet you Chad. I’m Eddie.”
“If you don’t mind my saying so, Eddie, you look like you’ve seen better days.”
“Haven’t we all Chad. Anyway, appearances can be deceiving.”
“Oh? How’s that?”
The man shrugged and bit into his sandwich and took a pull on his beer.
“Just so, Chad. You’re not from around here. What brings you to the Golden Gate?”
“Oh, a conference. I’m spending a couple of extra days. I was told this is paradise.”
The man studied him and smiled.
“Oh, yes it is, for sure!”
The little man chuckled as if recalling a joke he had once heard.
“Well I’m glad you like it. So tell me Chad, what is your dream?”
“Yes, what is it you would do with your life if you could make it happen tomorrow.”
“Well I…you know it’s funny, nobody has ever asked me that before, but I’ve always wanted to be a pilot and own my own plane. I’d love to fly.”
The corners of the man’s eyes crinkled and he reached over and patted Chad on the hand.
“I think that’s a wonderful dream. I knew you had something less ordinary inside you.”
With that he reached into his coat pocket and withdrew a checkbook. He pulled out what appeared to be a Mont Blanc pen and began writing out a check. When he was done he tore it out and handed it to Chad.
“I’ll let you fill in the name part. I want you to go back to your home and fulfil your dream Chad.”
He handed Chad the check and stood up and put his checkbook back in his pocket.
“I must run, my ride has finally caught up with me. You have a good life son. I know I certainly have.”
As he walked to the curb Chad glanced at the check. It was made out for $100,000. He thought the man must be playing an elaborate joke on him until he noticed the stretch limo sitting in the street, the chauffeur holding the back door open. He watched open mouthed as the shabby little man limped to the car and got in.
As the limo rolled away the window rolled down and the little man waved to him.
“As I said, appearances can be deceiving Chad. Thanks for lunch.”