Friday, December 21, 2007

Funny How Things Work Out

Yesterday I thought I had two problems. And I did. But it turned out I also had some solutions, and didn’t even know it.

My first problem was that I was out of milk, so I had to find something other than my usual cereal and coffee for breakfast. The other was that I had a toy I’d meant to donate to a charity for Christmas, but it was getting late in the season, and many charity drives were already closed.

As a solution to my first problem, the breakfast issue, I decided to go to a little place I’d noticed near the West Oakland BART station called The Lord Provides Village Café. That looked like a good place to get coffee and maybe something to eat.

Everything about the place turned out to be surprising.

The coffee, astoundingly, was free. (Donuts: 75 cents.) But what really surprised me was that the business turned out to be more of an urban general store than a cafe. There are coolers of soda and juice, but no booze. There is frozen food, and a microwave to heat it up with. You can buy clothes, toys, and household goods, too. It’s not quite a coffee house, but it certainly isn’t a liquor store, either.

I saw the low, sometimes non-existent prices, and saw how local kids seemed to be encouraged to hang out. I heard the Christmas carols being played, and noted the store’s religious name, and it occurred to me that the face was more or less a community center with a charitable bent. Suddenly I realized I might have a solution to not just my dairy dilemma, but my toy troubles, too.

I asked the man working at the counter if they were having a toy drive. He said it was over, but that he would ask Hendrick if they needed any more.

Hendrick DeBoer, the owner, turned out to be a warm, wiry little guy with a beard and glasses who, oddly enough, looks just like Santa Claus on Atkins. He said he could always use toys. So I bought some milk and went home and got mine. Hendrick was happy to have it, and wished me a very merry Christmas.

Then I took my walk, finishing off the last few blocks of West Oakland on the near side of Interstate 880 that I hadn’t yet explored. I’m a little sad to be done with the neighborhood. It felt like saying goodbye, and it seemed right to be leaving a gift, however small.

The gift I picked will probably strike Hendrick as strange. It’s a mechanical toy I had as a child and remember liking a lot. It’s possible that not every kid would appreciate it, though the fact that they’re still making this gizmo 25 years later is a sign that maybe there are always more geeky children coming along. I certainly hope an appropriately eccentric kid is found and that his or her Christmas is a little bit merrier. If I could pass just a tiny bit of my childhood Christmas on to some other kid, that would feel good.

I hope that all of you who are celebrating Christmas have a very merry one. I hope there’s good food and good company, and I hope you get to give yourself a little bit of a break from work. I plan to take a little bit of a break myself, so I may not post much next week. Enjoy the holiday—and have a very happy new year!

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