“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you imagined.”-Henry David Thoreau

Inspiration is everywhere. Everywhere. It lies dormant in every fragment of the human experience and in the simplest, most mundane of interactions. I found a sliver of it recently at

Taco Bell.

Recently my hunger-ravaged tummy found itself jonesing for a Beefy 5-Layre Burrito, so I took Agnes, the Rover, for a short drive to the nearby Taco Bell. (Spelling layer, “layre,” makes me feel like I’m eating foreign fare rather than something that is likely laden with trans fat and sub-standard ingredients. Is it obvious yet that I have a tendency toward over-thinking?)

Because the drive-thru line was abnormally long, I ventured into the establishment in hopes of procuring said burrito. Made nearly opaque with grimy fingerprints and smears of heaven knows what, the glass door presented a germophobe, such as myself, with a serious quandary: do I forgo burrito bliss in an attempt to avoid touching the handle that without a doubt harbors at least as much bacteria as the door’s windowed surface? Or do I chance dying of some communicable disease spread by people who at best wash their hands every other day then go to public places and insist on spreading their disgusting germs for all of the rest of us to contract? Yes it’s mean, but so is spreading E. coli.

I felt like I was in a “Choose Your Own Adventure,” book (which, consequently, I consider to be some of the finest American literature to ever hit bookstores) and was faced with a decision that could either lead me to the unraveling of a sordid and exciting mystery, or guide me to a certain death.

I decided to take a chance and enter the fast-food, “restaurant.” Does anyone else think that when fast-food establishments are referred to as, “restaurants,” that perhaps that’s a liberal use of the term? I generally reserve the term, “restaurant,” for places where the “furniture,” (another liberal use of the word) is not composed of some hard plastic that likely will be discovered to exude copious amounts of carcinogens.

At any rate, after braving the door handles of not one, but two doors (why do they have to have double doors? Is is just to ensure that you have double the opportunity to contract H1N1?) I headed in the direction of the counter. Bedecked in a color scheme of teal, mauve and a lovely shade of peach, Taco Bell was the perfect picture of late-eighties, southwest decor. Planters teeming with faux greenery that unsuccessfully attempted to “cascade, ” from their boxes, adorned the tops of pony walls designed to guide throngs of eager eaters into a serpentine line where they were expected to await their turn at ordering all the tacos and burritos their expanding waistlines could handle.

As I waited for the woman ahead of me to conclude her ordering, I watched as the employee struggled with the cash register. “I’m sorry,” the employee apologized. “It’s my first day.”

There are certain things that a person can say that will IMMEDIATELY garner my complete understanding and unparalleled sympathy. “It’s my first day,” is one of them. I have had enough jobs (I often tell people that short of pole-dancing and prostitution, I’ve done it all. Hyperbole, of course, but it certainly elicits an entertaining response.;)) that my heart goes out to anyone making a concerted effort to forge a path for themselves in a new, “career.” Again, perhaps liberal use of the word, but to each his/her own.

Once my turn arrived, the employee and I engaged in the banter of ordering and discussing the difficulties of beginning new employment when, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a woman–the manager–watching the exchange. I noted immediately the high cheekbones and fine brow of the manager. She also had the most beautiful eyes. They were a crystalline shade of smokey gray and had the most indefinable twinkle.  Her lips were this pale shade of mauve and curved to a perfect pout.  She looks like a she could be a model, I thought. I hadn’t noticed that she had been studying me as closely as I had her.

“You are such a beautiful young woman,” she said to me. “And you have amazing eyes.” Okay, so that was weird. She was thinking some of the same things about me that I had about been thinking about her. You know what else was funny? That the most flattering thing about her compliment was not that she called me, “beautiful,” but rather that she called me, “young woman.” I guess my vanity’s leaning in the direction of preserving my youth at this stage of the game.:)

We began a brief, but enlightening conversation in which I returned her compliments with even greater emphasis than she had delivered hers.  Then things became decidedly unexpected. Delightfully unexpected.

After I told her for probably the third time how beautiful her eyes were, she said matter-of-factly, “I used to be a model.” Well duh, I thought. Of course you were. That much seemed obvious. The trainee who had rung me up, however, found this little revelation to be shocking and made no attempt to disguise that fact. Her mouth parted and her eyes widened and the surprise her face wore was nothing short of insulting. Turning to address her subordinate, the manager spoke with an amusing sense of irony.

“I haven’t always worn a Taco Bell uniform,” the manager said, her voice barely able to contain a cynical laugh

I haven’t always worn a Taco Bell uniform. The words bounced around in my brain like an echo in a cathedral. Sure, that was clear, but there was something in the way she said that incredibly obvious statement that made it seem so much more poignant. Something only her voice, her tone, her inflection could convey.

And I walked, then, my steps heavy with thought. I absently planted myself in a hard, plastic seat enmeshed in layers of filth and bacteria and assimilated the story that I had just heard. I cannot look at people and not wonder at their stories. I can’t help but find my mind meandering down silly paths of, “I wonder if…” But this woman and her life, the twists and turns it had taken that seemed nothing short of unexpected, they somehow struck me with a surprising impact.

As I waited for my number to be called, I watched a man and two sweet little boys arrived. With eyes the color of ash, there was absolutely no mistaking the parentage of the boys. The man and two children were the manager’s family. She beamed at them as she took a break from work to enjoy this unexpected surprise and I watched the scene with rapt attention. There was no wistfulness, no regret, no insecurity in her gray eyes. If there was ever a doubt as to which path she should tread, it seemed to have flown with the arrival of her children.

I just found myself feeling sad, not because I would be arrogant enough to know what’s best for someone else, because the older I get the more that becomes a moot point. And, as I’ve blogged in the past, I would NEVER trade being a mother for anything. The thing that was just a little heartbreaking was that she seemed to have given up on her dreams; that she had written off any life that diverged from her current one.  I think that anyone who works hard to make an honest living is someone to be respected and Lord knows that I’ve had far crappier jobs than nine out of ten people you’ll meet (not, unfortunately, hyperbole) but, I just hate seeing people discount their ambitions and relegate them to a place of impossibility. The annoyingly persistent optimist in me refuses to let that idea go. I understand the need to be realistic and to put food on the table, etc. I have made sacrifices I would never want anyone I care about to have to make . But I know–I know–that there’s something more; that life is more than some pragmatic need to live hand to mouth. It’s not easy–I know that better than most–but I just want so badly to see people move in the direction of their dreams.

At any rate, I guess I just had throw this tale out there into the great recesses of the cyber universe; to know that other people had heard the story of this beautiful woman and her current circumstances. I suppose I just had to express my hopes that, whatever her life becomes, that somehow her dreams find some small place in it. Maybe I’ll be able to use it as an effective reminder to make room for some dreams of my own.:)

XOXO

hollie

“Even if I don’t reach all my goals, I’ve gone higher than I would have if I hadn’t set any.” -Danielle Fotopoulis


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