This is a story that I just have to share with all of you…
Ordinarily, no matter where I am going in the Central Business District or the French Quarter of New Orleans, if I cannot park at home, I am usually parking at Canal Place. And last night was really no different. The parking garage at the complex housing an upscale shopping mall, office building and hotel, to me, has always been one of the safer bets, and so, when I decided to go out last night, there probably was never a single thought about parking anywhere else. Thus begins this interesting story of high personal anxiety and really unexpected blessings.
After the pretty average night out on the town, I was driving my car out of the garage and en route to my place, just a few blocks down, at about 6:00AM, when I ran into a problem at a fourth-floor ticket booth. The parking attendant, a kind woman who was as professional and good-spirited as anyone could be at that hour, swiped my debit card for the $14 parking fee, only to have it come back “declined”. I was stunned. In fact, I had used my card earlier, on Saturday, for a lunch with my colleague Bora, and knew that I was not anywhere near my limit. So I thought, this should not be happening. What’s more, this could not have been happening to me, because, with only six dollars and no other cards in my wallet (remember, safety first). Nevetheless, I was about to be screwed. My car was not going to be leaving the fourth deck of the garage on this pleasant Sunday morning, unless I thought of something.
Very confident in that fact the card was functional, I asked the attendant, “Can you try it again?” And she did, unfortunately, to no avail. That only produced a second declination.
For a moment—or, in my mind, a hell of a lot longer than that—I sat thunderstruck. I could not understand why this card did not work or, more importantly, what I was about to have to do about it. Luckily for me, though, the attendant was much more adept in these situations. She instructed me to visit an ATM on the third floor of the shopping mall. There, she added, I might have better luck using my card to withdraw funds, because, from time to time, glitches did occur on their POS systems. And so, I took her advice; I backed away from the booth, parked the car, and proceed to the elevator bank.
As a consultant, when dealing with other people’s problems, I am usually very calculating and decisive. I have the luxury to distance myself from whatever it is, while keeping an objective and unemotional perspective. It’s not the same when the problems are personal; I can, and usually do, get very heated. And I have never been one who deals easily with Black Swans—that is, those events that are totally random and equally unexpected. In fact, if not given enough time to digest my problem, I can feel my blood pressure and anxiety levels rising to the point where all of those good crisis-management skills simply disappear. That was the case today, and I repeatedly reminded myself that I needed to simply keep my cool. The worst case scenario, I recalled thinking, is that I am going to have to walk home (a few minutes away), get the money, and come back for the car. But then, there was the issue of the credit card. Did something happen? Did my identity get jacked? What?
At the ATM, I did not get any real answers, only more questions. The initial attempts to withdraw funds—yes, at a stupidly high fee—were also unsuccessful. Each try was declined, and so, I decided to actually check my balance on the card. That is when something peculiar happened. Three balance inquiry requests took unusually long times to process, and at the conclusion of each, I got the same incomprehensible message: #001 INSTITUTION NOT FOUND FOR ROUTING…DENIED…#7555 FOR ASSISTANCE CALL YOUR BANK. From what I gathered, it was as if this ATM was telling methat my bank, in essence, was not on the other end of the line to take its call. “Oh my God!” I gasped. Am I a victim of some late-night bank failure?
Suddenly, the anxiety level reached a new high, as I thought of this ordeal being far greater than a parking fee. And now, with no idea of what to do, all I did was pray—and pray extremely hard—because there was no other move for a quick-fix. Directionless, I returned to the parking attendant, and explained my situation, knowing fully that there was nothing she could do. I just needed to vent now. Then she urged me to try the ATM and, if necessary, the telephones in the hotel lobby. So that is where I went next.
The message from the ATM in the hotel lobby was strikingly similar to the first messages from the mall ATM managed by a different institution. Now I was a little more concerned, because the thought of my bank shutting off its spigot was really gaining traction with me. After a few nervous moves, I uttered to myself, “Stop it.” Getting nervous about events I could not control were not going to help the situation, if, in fact, there was even a situation. Forcefully, I made myself adhere to a game plan: I just needed to exit Canal Place, and on my way home, possibly find an ATM that might actually work. If not, then simply get the cash from home, and return to pick up the car from there. This ain’t that hard, Gary, I thought, and with those words, I boarded an elevator to the ground floor.
I was not alone on the elevator. In fact, there was another gentleman who was sporting, oddly enough, a binder and a bulky press tag around his neck. Dutifully, I greeted the man, and he was courteous enough to reply. Then, of course, I had to ask about the binder. “Surely, you are not on your way to a conference session, at 7AM, on a Sunday morning?” I asked, and he quickly replied that those materials were for work, while also mentioning that he was a local. It was at that point when he inquired if anything was wrong, and I sheepishly began to share the details of my ordeal. He nodded, saying that this has happened to him, as well, and then he reached into his pocket for a few greenbacks.
Suddenly, I felt small, because here I was—the often prideful, never wrong, and always got-it-together Gary Harrell, hesitantly accepting a handout of a few dollars from a stranger in an elevator. I thought to forego the gesture, but I did not. Instead, I quickly asked the gentleman his name, so that I would return to the hotel shortly and leave the reimbursement with the front desk. To this, he quickly insisted that it was not necessary, and that he would not be returning to receive it. Then, as an alternative, I asked for his number, in order to call him to arrange the reimbursement. This, too, was met with opposition. It seemed that the generous man was unwilling to allow me to return his help in any way offered. But, just when I felt that there was not much else I could do or offer to return his cash, I asked for his name again, just for my own edification. To that, he said, “My name is Deuce McCallister. It is good to meet you, Gary.”
Deuce McCallister—running-back superman of the New Orleans Saints! If I felt small because a stranger was helping me out, then I was really feeling microscopic because it was this guy. Though I am no major sports fan, I still know who this guy is, if only by the enormity of his presence in football lure. Quickly realizing all of this, I stood there speechless, and finally, I said, “You’re the football player…Man, I am sorry, but thank you…” What else could I say, right? It was quite apparent, from the beginning, that I did not know who he was. But that did not bother Mr. McCallister. He grinned, and told me to go and get my car and fix what happened with my card. Then he headed for the street beyond the large, glass-inset doors.
My step-father was the first person I called to share this story with, though I had to tell my mom first, and I did all of this only after I Google-shared Mr. McCallister to confirm that this was the guy. It was. Greg told me that he had heard many stories about Mr. McCallister’s magnanimous nature and willingness to service his broad community. Well, I, for one, can attest to that personally. In fact, every time I see or hear his name with friends around, they will be sure to ask, “Man, Gary, don’t you owe that guy eight dollars?” (But I vow that will get repaid in spades, somehow, I assure you.)
Today, in the Superdome, the Saints star never missed a beat. According to the Associated Press, he secured 73 yards on 20 carries and made a 10-yard reception to give his team some much needed breathing room. It’s clear his mind had moved on from that fateful elevator ride; it was focused, instead, on just continuing to pursue excellence in the present. How cool great is that?
Mr. McCallister, thank you for your help. God bless you and keep you. And do know that #26 has a new meaning for me today.
I figured that you all would have appreciated this tale of random encounters and unexplained events. With regard to the latter, here is something that you all should know as I close this entry: when I finally reached my bank, they showed no record of a problem with my card or their electronic services, ironically enough. In fact, I was able to use my card without compunction when I purchased groceries this evening…I am not sure what to make of that, but we will just leave those events where they are.