Tallahassee. I’m about to make a speech to a group of ladies at a luncheon. But before I do, I’m stopping at a barbecue joint for necessary fuel because this isn’t my first women’s lunch gig. I know from experience that finger sandwiches don’t fill me up.
I like visiting Tallahassee. Always have. The colossal oaks, the Spanish moss, the old homes, it’s perfect.
When you arrive here you immediately sense the energy of a college town. And, of course, since Tallahassee is also the state capital, the downtown has the uptight vibe of a city that suffers from severe gastrointestinal distress.
But it is this combination of youth, academia, and state politics that gives this place a uniquely diverse feel.
Take this barbecue joint. At the table behind me is a frat boy with shaggy hair and flip flops. He sits directly beside a guy who looks like a wealthy congressman. The frat boy smiles at the congressman and, without a shred of awkwardness, elbows the guy and says, “Yo. Pass the barbecue sauce, bro.”
The strange thing is, I’ve always had bad luck in this town. I don’t know why. Don’t get me wrong, I love this city, but I have history here.
It all started when I applied to Florida State University several years ago. At the time, I was an adult student with little more than a GED and a smile. I freely admit, as a high-school dropout I wasn’t exactly Mister Academic. But, hey, I was trying to make something of myself.
My dream was to earn a degree from a State-U. So I rented a nearby apartment and enrolled in an arts program. I met with the professors and basically begged them to let me into school. I vowed to work hard, and I promised to bring the teachers lots of apples.
But the professors never let me finish my interview. I was promptly rejected. FSU told me to go home. Game over. Thanks for playing.
That same afternoon I sat in my Tallahassee apartment and cried. I looked out my window and saw all the 18-year-olds strutting to class to study English, music, or art, and I knew that would never be me. I was a grown man, and I felt like a big, dumb hick.
Fast forward a few years, after I had completed my modest community-college degree, suddenly I had this fledgling writing career. Surprisingly, I was invited to speak at a Tallahassee literary festival.
Me? There must have been some mistake.
I was very excited. I thought my fortune was about to change in this town. Namely, because the festival was a swanky event that featured nationally known authors and famous speakers. I was so flattered to be asked to participate that I almost ruined my trousers.
More than anything, I think I just wanted to prove to to myself that those professors were wrong about me, I was not a nothing. I mattered as much as anyone else.
But when I arrived at the festival I knew something was wrong. After I checked into my hotel, the event person showed me the venue where I would be speaking. I was crestfallen.
My area was an outdoor public pavilion that looked like a prisoner interrogation facility in northern Kuwait. The shelter had graffiti-covered picnic tables, and someone’s dog had pooped on the floor.
“This is where I’m speaking?” I asked the event person.
The event person smiled. “That’s right, Sam.”
“My name’s Sean.”
She glanced at her clipboard. “No, it’s not.”
“But wait,” I pointed out, “there’s no microphone. What am I supposed to do, yell at everyone?”
She shrugged. “I can get you a bullhorn.”
It was the day from hell. And it got worse. My pavilion was located next to the beer tent, which featured a rock band with enough sound equipment to stage a Who concert. I had to scream over the music until the veins in my neck popped.
Then it rained. And this was no minor rainstorm. This was a Biblical rain from the fifth chapter of Genesis. My three-person audience was getting drenched. Everyone was miserable.
Nobody ever cleaned up the dog poo.
The high point of the afternoon was when, in the middle of my speech, the rock band played “Hey Jude” at a volume loud enough to liquify earthworms, whereupon I just gave up and quit talking.
When the festival person later asked whether I had fun, I told them the truth: “I don’t think this town likes me.”
The volunteer touched my arm gently and looked me in the eyes to say, “Don’t say that, Sam.”
Even so, a guy can’t hold onto past failures. He’s got to let them go. He’s got to keep trying. A man must embrace hope and trust that his destiny will someday change. Today, before I make my speech, I am choosing to believe that my luck in this town is about to improve. This could be the fateful day it all turns around. So keep your fingers crossed for me.
And pass the barbecue sauce, bro.