Every Wednesday, I looked forward to seeing his smiling face come through the front door of the store, so much so that I named Wednesday after him.
George was “just a customer.” I still don’t know his last name, but this post is about how he affected my life. George had been an entrepreneur most of his life. He owned a small eatery called Spiro’s Gyros on Coronado Island with a partner and another place in Palm Springs he had sold and self-financed. He was 73 years old and would drive two to three days a week from Palm Springs to Coronado to work hands-on at Spiro’s. That’s a lot of drive time on California freeways, even for a young guy, but George never complained and actually seemed to enjoy it.
We were George’s “halfway” stop. It was always a mocha latte, but he had begun to buy loose-leaf tea for a lady friend in the desert, and one day he asked to try a hot tea himself and never turned back. If we weren’t too busy, he would stay for awhile and we’d talk the food business and business in general. George was a perfect George like George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life – just a solid guy who went through life engaging in a positive way, never complaining, always smiling and helpful.
He became interested in what we were doing and had begun checking out locations for a second store we told him we were looking at, giving us his seasoned feedback in his “extra time.” He had even talked about possibly getting involved in some way, as he saw the opportunity in loose-leaf tea. One day he brought
an article he had clipped out of the Palm Springs paper about Teavana moving into the Palm Desert plaza. Other times we just laughed and talked memories of Michigan, where we were both from. He went to Michigan State and attended his high-school reunion in late July. Everybody loved George. He was just a great George kind of guy.
I didn’t see him the week after he had come back from his reunion. Wednesday just wasn’t the same. Maybe Thursday. Sometimes he would run a day late, but not often. The next Wednesday I expectantly watched the door, but still no George. Two more weeks passed, then three. He had been to the doctor recently for some minor aggravation. Maybe it was something physical?
Last Thursday, I couldn’t help it. Something wasn’t right. I never intrude on customers’ personal lives, but I did it. I called Spiro’s Gyros in Coronado. “May I speak with George, please?” The voice was an older man’s and it became very quiet. “George passed away.” The words were strange and not connecting. “What? Passed away? What…was it sudden?” Pause. “George was killed in an auto accident at the end of July.”
I remember that last time when we were busy and he just peeked over the sneeze-guard glass and smiled with an “oh well, you can’t talk this week so I’m leaving” smile and I quickly glanced up to see him walk out the door to head off for Spiro’s. Now I put the phone down and cried. I didn’t cry when my aunt and uncle died. It was expected; they were very old and tired. But George? George had so much more living to do.
George was George. Just George…but what a great George he was!! He sure affected my life…can’t explain exactly why or how…he just did. So, it will always be George Wednesday at California Tea & Coffee Brewery. Do you have a George kind of customer? If you do, serve him well.