One lonely traveler in Louisville & a cowboy's act of kindness on New Year's Eve
[Dec 31, 2021: Fadi BouKaram]
Fadi BouKaram sitting on his RV. (CREDIT: Fadi BouKaram)
I arrived in Louisville on New Year’s Eve of 2016. I had taken off from Lebanon, Pennsylvania, a few days prior, heading to Kentucky to visit Lebanon in Marion County and Lebanon Junction in Bullitt County.
This was my itinerary to visit all of America’s Lebanons in my RV. It had been a great trip thus far. Until the holidays, that is. See, I had never been alone on Christmas; I always spent it with my family.
As a kid, it was with my parents, brother and sister in Lebanon, the country, where I’m from. In graduate school in San Francisco, it was spent with my aunt and cousins.
But in 2016, I was by myself and none too happy about it. I flirted with the idea of decorating the RV with a small tree or some hanging lights to feel some of the season’s spirit. But I quickly dismissed the thought because I had very little patience for putting up decorations and, more important, even less patience for taking them down. Six years earlier, to entice my family – which now included a 6-month-old nephew and Godson – to spend Christmas Eve at my place, I conceded and bought a tree, with decorations, lights and a wreath pinned on the front door. But when Easter came a few months later and my apartment still looked like December, I knew this would be the last time I tried decorating.
Fast forward to 2016 when my Grinchy self had just arrived to Louisville. I drove to Walmart to park there for the night, as I usually did on my trip, aiming to go to bed early and welcome the new year as if it were just another day.
But by 11 p.m. or so, I had woken up to the sound of fireworks. It dawned on me that perhaps I didn’t want to spend New Year’s Eve by myself after all. So I went to the nearby Waffle House on Dixie Highway. It might seem like an odd destination to ring the new year, but I liked the food there and the servers were always nice. Being greeted with “what would you like, sweetie?” is all it takes sometimes.
A minute after sitting down, there was a loud metal screeching and a crash outside. A few of us patrons went out to see what was going on and it was a car accident. The police, firefighters and ambulance arrived right away. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt.
As I went back in I found that my seat at the counter and the one next to it were taken by a rowdy couple, a man in a cowboy hat and a woman wearing a plastic celebratory tiara. I hadn’t ordered any food yet, and I was seated somewhere else. But I wasn’t too pleased about having to move.
The couple was loud, and I noticed the man was eating his steak with his hand. Perhaps because I wasn’t in the best mood that night, I kept shooting dirty looks toward them, hoping they'd understand and quiet down. They didn't. After they had finished eating and were about to leave, the guy hopped off his stool and I saw that his left arm was missing.
I had only seen his right side when he was seated. To say that I felt like a jerk would be an understatement. The realization of how judgmental and ill-behaved I was made me feel ashamed to the core. I went back to my meal, in silence, head bowed.
Later in the night, after much self reflection and many coffees came the time when I was ready to head back to my camper. I asked for the check. The waitress approached me, smiling. She said: “Don’t worry, it was all taken care of.” I looked at her, confused. She explained that the man in the hat had paid my check and asked her to wish me a happy new year and that, hopefully, the next one would be better.
I was at a loss for words. I choked up even. The man had seen past my grouchy behavior and responded to it with generosity. This random act of kindness by a stranger toward a person who at the time, was not deserving of that kindness always comes to mind.
Five years have passed since then; five new years have rung in (my) Lebanon and then in Ireland where I now live. And not one holiday season passes without remembering Louisville and its gracious cowboy. I hope that I am now living up to the promise I made that night of paying it forward. And wherever this man is, I hope he’s well and I hope he’ll have a great new year. If I’m lucky enough, he might even read this, in which case: “Thank you, sir.”
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Note: Fadi Boukaram is an engineer who was born and raised in Lebanon. After receiving a graduate degree in business in California, he worked in international tax advisory. Following a close call in Baghdad, Iraq, he gave it all up and went back to the United States to live in a motorhome and take pictures. His savings ran out and he returned to his old career in taxes in a new country. He now lives in Dublin, Ireland. Find him on TikTok @cedrusk
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