It was 10:30pm Pacific time.
I had one new voicemail. I knew why. The wireless service near my family’s restaurant was terrible. I stepped outside to get enough bars to find out what couldn’t wait until morning.
“Corey, this is Howie Mandel. I was so impressed to hear about your last performance that I wanted to invite you to dinner with me this evening in San Francisco at La Paz.”
With my jaw still partially dropped, I went back inside to deliver the news to my dad. He was sitting on a stool near the front counter, and he could tell I was awestruck.
Before he could even ask what had me in such a daze, I blurted out, “Howie Mandel just invited me to dinner at La Paz!”
“Tonight?” my dad replied, not reciprocating my excitement as I had anticipated. “It’s a little late for dinner.”
This was true. After all, the voicemail could have been left for me at any time during the evening. “More bars in more places – my ass!” I thought, instantly hating my wireless provider. Seeing disappointment creep in, my dad picked up the cordless next to him and dialed the number for La Paz, one of the most upscale and exclusive restaurants in San Francisco.
He spoke with the maître d’ who confirmed, to my immediate relief, that Mr. Mandel was still in the restaurant expecting me. My father hung up, and I could tell from the furrow in his brow that there was still one more hurdle to clear.
“Your mother has the car tonight.”
Why couldn’t my mom have taken the city bus today? Surely, with all of her motherly premonitions, she could have foreseen my need for the car today!
The lightbulb appeared over my father’s head as he stood up and resolutely headed for the door. We stood outside under the faint orange hue of the street lights and gazed at our transportation salvation – the homeless bus.
Jack and Sara were asleep in two of the remaining seats in what used to be a school bus, though I can’t imagine how long ago it was since it was used in that capacity. The entire top was removed, making it a convertible (of sorts), and many of the seats had been removed to make room for the bags of aluminum cans Jack and Sara had accumulated. Since the price of aluminum had bottomed out the year before, they had become aluminum prospectors, guarding their reserves until better times came around. Even though they had no home, no one could say that they weren’t industrious.
My dad stepped up to the decrepit bus and rapped sharply on the crudely painted white exterior.
Sara, snoozing in the rear of the bus, had her arms folded across her chest. She heard the knock and did not start, but slowly opened her eyes and brought them up to meet my father’s.
“You buyin’?” She asked curtly, clearly hoping her interrupted slumber would not be without good purpose.
“Not tonight. Get out.”
My dad too had few words for the exchange. I expected Sara to resist, but she seemed to sense the urgency in his request, and slowly stood up without stretching. She shuffled to the front of the bus where Jack was still tossing. She jabbed him in his right side, and he shook awake with a frustration and surprise that bordered on hilarity. She pointed to the door, and without another word, the two descended the steps of their bus.
When they had both taken a place on the sidewalk bench a few meters away, my dad stood by the door and elegantly gestured for me to enter first. I boarded the bus, refusing to acknowledge my inner safety-nut and choose the torn and weather-worn seat directly behind the driver. My dad saddled in to his equally attractive seat, and glanced over his shoulder at me with a quick smile.
He turned the key, and the ancient bus shuddered to life on the first try.
We were on our way to have dinner with Howie Mandel.