Friday, October 24, 2008

Meet Willie

Wednesday was barbecue day. The team had looked forward to barbecue day since last week. When you travel out of town and end up working in BFE Arkansas, you look forward to the small events around which daily and weekly life rotates.

Willie and his wife bring their barbecue truck to this little town every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. There aren't a lot of restaurants anyway, so having a new option is always exciting.

Our team has been visiting Willie's barbecue truck for the last three years. Even though we're only here a few weeks a year, the team takes the time to talk to Willie, and we've built up a nice little relationship. Not that its that difficult. Willie likes to shoot the breeze. He's probably around 60. Looks a little like Uncle Jessie from the old Dukes of Hazard series. Wears overalls and everything. Talks forever.

The guys had me set up for steaks for lunch. They'd apparently pre-arranged something with Willie. We walked over together, but were disappointed to find out that Willie thought we wanted steaks on Friday. We told him we were leaving before Friday lunch.

"Well come on back tonight," he growled. "I'll have steaks, potatoes, and salad. Now why don't you come on over here and get you some lunch."

* * * * *

While we waited, Willie shared his Scotty Pippen story. Apparently, Scotty Pippen, NBA star, calls one of the local towns home. Scotty's mom sent him to Willie's truck to pick up barbecue one day. Willie stood there shooting the breeze with Scotty while his wife filled the order. Always focused on customer service, Willie asked Scotty if his order was ok. Apparently Scotty responded by saying it would be better if it were free.

Willie chuckles at this point in the story. "I told him 'Boy, you make more in a minute than I do in a year, and you still want your barbecue for free?'"

Of course when I went to pay for our lunches, and offered him a tip, he pushed it back across the window and said "I don't need that! I'm independently wealthy!" When I told him maybe his wife would like it, he scoffed again, and pushed it away. "She's got me to take care of her . . . she don't need that." I laughed, pocketed the few dollars, and grabbed our food.

We ordered traditional barbecue plates. The beans were soft and perfectly seasoned. The potato salad creamy. The pulled pork melted in your mouth. Even white bread never tested so good. We tried to pace ourselves, waiting for the feast to come that evening.

* * * * *

We finished up work and walked over to get dinner. Willie looked at his watch. "8 minutes late," he admonished, looking at us over his reading glasses. Of course, he looks like your grandfather when he was pretending to be mad. "How was lunch?"

I gushed about the food. Told him that I hadn't been feeling well, but that I felt much better after the barbecue. He snorted, then said "Glad to hear you ate. You looked a little anorexic when you came in for lunch."

I couldn't resist. I hugged him. Told him that was the nicest thing a mother of two pushing 40 had heard all day. He looked at me seriously and said "Have you been to Wal-Mart yet? That's how we know you're from out of town. You're skinny." I laughed. Might have blushed. It's that old man flirtation that you can only get away with at 60.

He had the steaks and potatoes ready to go in large containers. He stood next to the truck, waiting for the customers to clear so he could get our salad. As we stood, he got into storytelling mode again. This one was about Wells Fargo. Charging him a late fee. Which he refused to pay, because he'd already paid off the loan balance in full. So they charged him a second late fee. Which he refused to pay. And a third. And a fourth.

When the credit collectors would call, Willie shot the breeze with 'em. Told them to call back when they would reverse the charges. After a week or so of calling around eight every morning, Willie finally asked them to call him at seven. "Seven?" they asked. "Why seven? We can't start calling until eight."

"Well, if you call me at seven, I don't have to set my alarm, 'cause I get up at seven. This way, you can wake me up, we can chat, and then I can get my stuff done." They didn't take too kindly to being Willie's alarm. After weeks of chatting with the collectors, but not budging, he convinced a tired collector to waive $125 of $140 in late fees. Willie paid the $15. Then he called his broker. Asked him to buy Willie a few shares of Wells Fargo. Managed to buy in when the stock was pretty low. Watched the market price creep up a few months later, sold for a gain well in excess of the $15 fee. Sent his banker a copy of the check and his brokerage statement, showing the gain. Just to make a point.

* * * * *

He packaged up the last of the utensils, and asked his wife to get some butter. Willie scoffed at her when she returned with an entire pound of butter. "Alice, they don't need a whole box of butter." There were only four of us. Willie opened the box, and dropped in two sticks of butter. And a vat of sour cream. Big difference.

We asked how much we owed him for the special order. "$30." We looked at each other. ????? I pulled out two $20's. He started to make change. I walked away. He gave me a "tut-tut-tut" sound, so I gave him the hand. Told him the company was paying anyway. I finally got him to pocket the extra.

He took our cards. Asked if we would be back Friday. When we told him we were flying out Friday morning, he seemed genuinely disappointed to see us leave. Told us he looked forward to having us there each year.

* * * * *

We got back to the offices to find he'd fixed us five pounds of flank steak, four huge baked potatoes, and made a vat of salad for us. The food was great, and we chuckled at our good fortune. Which only got better after dinner.

Willie gave me a call, just to see how me and the boys had fared. Happy to hear we'd liked his cooking. Wished us well on our trip and invited us back.

I almost felt a little choked up inside.

I think Willie's a little sweet on me. But that's ok. I'm a little sweet on that grumpy old southern boy too.

Respectfully submitted,

The Wife

1 comment:

BamBam said...

I said, "happy old guy will have booze!" But at least grumpy old guy could cook!