Bill’s nine-year-old son was always talking about his friend Greg. And this was pretty much all Bill knew about his son’s classmate.
Until he noticed something unusual about Greg after a sleepover party. One morning, Greg offered to make everyone breakfast.
“He was nine,” says Bill. “And he cooked breakfast for us. I mean, what kind of nine-year-old knows how to make breakfast?”
This led Bill to ask his son about Greg’s home life. Bill’s son, in the tradition of all well-spoken, socially sensitive, acutely aware American nine-year-olds answered, “Can I have some new Pokémon cards, Dad?”
So Bill asked around at school, trying his best not to come off sounding like a nosy member of the KGB. He even offered Greg a ride home in hopes of learning more about the kid. But Greg declined because he said he usually rode the bus and besides, he too had a lot of important Pokémon cards to trade.
“So,” Bill says, “I staked out the kid’s house.”
Which, I want to point out, is absolutely normal for a middle-aged suburban male like Bill to do. In terms of normalcy, conducting unauthorized surveillance on strangers’ homes is right up there with weekend basketball at the YMCA.
Bill parked across the street and watched from his minivan. There were no cars at the house, nobody was coming or going. He suspected Greg was living alone.
But as it happened, Bill—who has a long track record of this—was wrong. He learned this when he used a more direct approach. Namely, he asked Greg some questions.
“Greg,” he said, “do you live alone?”
“Nope,” Greg said.
Greg explained that his father worked night shifts and slept during the daytime. And he worked three jobs.
Bill asked, “But how does your father drive to work? There are no cars at your house.”
“A van comes to get him,” said Greg.
A van? Well. It was none of Bill’s business. Which is why he decided to go on another stakeout.
“Hey,” Bill points out, “stakeouts are pretty fun if you wear black and pretend you’re in a movie.”
That night, he saw a commuter van pick up Greg’s father at around 8 P.M. When the van drove away, Bill tailed the van.
What he discovered was this: Greg’s dad was stuck on that commuter bus for three hours, round trip. Every weeknight. Sometimes longer.
So it was getting late, but now that Bill had the facts he drove home and did what any ordinary dad would do in this circumstance. He took the family dog on a nightly walk and picked up its poop with a plastic baggie.
Then he raised eight thousand dollars.
I’ll let Bill explain:
“He needed a car, it was plain and simple. I had to get him off that bus.”
Bill started an office pool. Employees were always pooling money for college football and the NBA, so why not raise money for Greg’s dad?
“I raised nine hundred bucks in two days,” says Bill.
His wife Jessica also mentioned it in yoga class. And by “mentioned it” I mean that Jessica employed the usage of certain guilt evoking techniques she learned from growing up with a Presbyterian mother.
She raised four hundred dollars.
Bill says, “But we were bummed because it wasn’t even close to what we needed. We almost gave up.”
But it turns out that they didn’t have to give up. Somehow word spread. Money started arriving from places unseen. One night, someone even rang Bill’s doorbell during supper and left a cookie tin on the porch. It was filled with over a thousand dollars.
“I didn’t know half of these people,” says Bill. “They were just strangers who heard about what we were doing. The hardest part was keeping all this a secret from our kids.”
After three weeks they had enough to buy a dependable vehicle. And one evening, Bill and several friends—fourteen friends to be exact—went auto shopping, armed with the newspaper classifieds.
“We made it fun,” says Bill. “I mean what’s the point of doing something good at Christmas if it’s not fun? Plus, my wife has a killer buttered rum recipe.”
So imagine this scene: You’re advertising your 2013 Ford truck in the newspaper, and one night fourteen men who smell like buttered rum, with a designated driver named Bill, show up on your front lawn to take a gander at your F-150. You ask these nuts why it takes so many people to test drive a truck, and their only response is: “Merry Christmas!” with lots of hiccups.
Now let us ask ourselves, what do we think would happen next in a scenario like this?
If you guessed that the seller would knock six thousand dollars off the asking price, then you would be correct.
Bill bought a nice truck, fully loaded, with gray leather interior, 50,000 miles, and aftermarket heated seats. And he still had enough left over for new tires. Then they donated the truck anonymously.
“We gave it to a church,” says Bill. “And I told the priest where to deliver it.”
And at this point, the details get a little fuzzy because while Bill and I were talking, his dog started scratching at the back door, which meant Bill had to go get the baggies. But what I can tell you is this:
One cold Christmas morning, a nice truck arrived in Greg’s father’s driveway, driven by a priest who handed the keys to Greg’s father. No strings attached.
Bill says, “They said Greg’s dad broke down and started crying. I doubt he was crying any harder than we were.”
This might be true. But I can confidently tell you that as far as crying goes, right now I have everyone licked.