I was on my way to pick up a car on Thanksgiving Day. My boss Riff said that the company wanted their car in New York City by Monday, and the only day the terminated employee was free was on Turkey day. Not a problem for me, I had no other plans. My buddy Frank in Birmingham had asked me to dinner with his family. In fact, quite a few of my friends who I visit with as I travel around the USA had offered invitations, but I didn't know where I would be.
As it turns out, Sante Fe, New Mexico. I came into town on a crowded bus late morning, and then got off and climbed into a taxi. The extremely dirty taxi finally turned onto the street where I was set to pick up, and I hopped out as quickly as I could in the driveway and paid cash. There was a terrible odor in the cab that I could not wait to get away from.
I walked up the driveway, and a large burly man approached me. He had on a filthy bathrobe which was wide open, and underneath was a T shirt and boxers. He appeared to be in bad need of a bath and a shave, and I think he'd been drinking. "You the guy?" he asked me.
I smiled and nodded. "Yes Mr. Lombardi, I am Bill Thomas your friendly driver."
He grumbled. "Yes, I just bet you are. Come to take my car from me, have you?"
"Yes sir. Hope you're having a Happy Thanksgiving."
"Oh sure, its a regular party around here! I can't believe your boss and my boss both make us work on a holiday. Oh wait a minute... I'm not working, I got fired. That's why you're stealing my car away from me."
"Uh, your company said they needed the car in New York early Monday."
"And how is that my problem?"
"It's not, but I --"
"But nothing. Couldn't you have been a little more considerate than to pick up my car on Thanksgiving day? Do you have a heart?"
"I do. I was told that you selected this day, that you wanted me to come today."
"That's entirely beside the point."
He shook his head and slammed his fist down on the roof of the Ford Taurus. "Bill, I don't have a job now. But you want to know what I do have? I have a mortgage and a car payment and a wife with a fond affection for shopping with my credit card. Know what else? I have two kids, one of them needs braces and the other needs..." He stopped and glared at me. "Well sir, I don't think I'm going to tell you what the other one needs."
"I don't need to know. I just want to do a quick inspection of the car, then you'll sign off on it and I'll be on my way."
I was confused. "No?"
"No sir. Not gonna happen."
"Which part is a No?"
"All of it. The whole shooting match."
"I don't understand."
"The only way I'm gonna let you take this car is if you buy some of my homemade chili." He lumbered over to ten stacks of boxes and grabbed one. He hauled it over to the Ford and slammed the box onto the trunk. "Best damn chili in the southwest, and I made it all myself."
"Did I stutter? I thought I'd find a way of generating more income, so I made up a whole lot of this chili. Figured I'd sell it on the Internet, and to friends and family. You know."
I simply nodded. "Yes sir."
"I used a special recipe. Three kinds of beans, the fattiest, greasiest meat on the market, plus cayenne peppers, jalapeno peppers, tabasco sauce, and a healthy dose of that blazing hot Chinese chili sauce. It packs a wallop, let me tell you. Oh yes, and there is one full cup of brown sugar in every jar. "
"I used to love chili, had the best ever in Texas once."
"Texas?" He roared with laughter, then became grim. "Let me tell you something, Texas is a pussy state with pussy chili. You hear me? You're in the southwest now, we border Mexico in this state!"
I wondered if he realized that the state of Texas also borders Mexico, but chose to remain silent. I just walked around the car and marked on my paperwork where I found any dents or scratches. When I was done, I came back to Mr. Lombardi. "OK, now if you can just sign here."
"I'm not signing nothing. And you're not getting the keys."
"I already told you. If you want the car, you gotta buy five jars of my homemade chili."
"It's real nice of you to offer, but I can't eat chili."
"Everyone eats chili."
"Not me, not anymore. I have a stomach condition, and all that fire you have in that chili would kill me."
"It would not kill you, don't stretch the truth."
"You're right, let's just say it would cause me some serious, horrible pain."
He slapped me on the back hard. "Come on Bill, be a man. This stuff will grow hair on your chest. And your back and your feet and your hands. It'll even put some hair on your chinny-chin-chin!"
I stood and weighed my options. This guy seemed pretty firm in his convictions, and I really wanted to get in the car and get down the road. Long drive from New Mexico to New York, and I would doubtless run into lots of holiday traffic. "I don't have much cash on me."
"Look Bill, I'm out of a job now and this chili is all I have to make enough income to take care of my family. My wife, and my kids. Have a heart, man. And ask yourself, just how badly do I want to take this car with me."
I shuffled my feet. "How much will it be?"
"Five bucks a jar. I'll sell you a case."
"I'll take two jars."
"That's not the deal."
I took out my wallet and opened it wide for him to inspect. There was one ten dollar bill inside. "That is all the money I have, take it or leave it."
He cursed a few times under his breath, then said, "You are very lucky, I'm going to take your ten bucks and let you take the car."
"Thank you, Mr. Lombardi."
He held out the keys for me, and when I reached for them he snatched them back. "But remember one thing. When you go to bed to night, you better hit your knees and thank the good Lord in Heaven above that you met a charitable man today. I could have kept the car and sent you packing. Hell, I could have beaten you and left you in a ditch where no one would find you."
I smiled politely. "I'm awfully glad you didn't." I took the keys and handed him the ten dollar bill.
He reached into the box and took out two jars. Then he reached in again and pulled out a third. "Oh crap, here you go, I'll give you three because I'm in the holiday spirit. Even if I don't have a job and may be in the poor house soon. Merry Christmas!"
"Happy Thanksgiving," I replied.
"You don't have to go be some sort of smart assed smart aleck, correcting me on my holidays. Just for that, I'm taking back your bonus jar." And he did. "Now hit the road before I change my mind and do some real damage."
I didn't know what he meant by that, but didn't want to hang around and find out. I got in the car and headed northeast for New York City. And I said a prayer that all of my friends and family were all having a very Happy Thanksgiving 2013.