Monday, April 7

Invest in Your Community

Dear Jacob,

Dad took his truck in today to see why it's wobbling a little. It turns out the tires aren't fully circular.  I think that means we're getting four new tires. This makes me cringe and yet smile. I cringe because I know that's a big price tag and we're living on savings a bit right now.  But I smile because if that's the way God wants us to spend his money, then that's just fine. I could have thought of something more exciting, but I'm not going to argue with God about his spending habits.

Right after we moved here one of our cars had its own version of elevation sickness and one day it just stopped working like it had a migraine and it wasn’t going to even attempt to go out that day. We had a chaotic evening in a gas station lot trying to figure out why in the world more gas wouldn’t solve its problem, stuffing sub sandwiches into the back seat for you guys and finally having to trust the tow truck driver’s recommendation for his friend’s tire shop. You never know what you’re getting into on a stranger’s suggestion but when he has your car chained to his truck bed, cigarette hanging from his bottom lip and the only people you can think to call are the guys you moved here to work with -- from whom you’ve already requested 200 favors over the friend limit -- you just go with it. It turned out, according to the tire guy, to need a small adjustment. I mean, he literally turned a greasy screw and changed our car’s life. I think we paid him $30 just because it seemed right that we should give him something and we were on our way. 

I have tried to live this past decade with a local mentality. I keep my business in my neighborhood.  Meaning, I won’t drive to North Denver so you guys can play flag football even when you were scholarshipped for a free session. I don’t ask friends for their recommendations for dentists, pediatricians, salons or bakeries because they’ll suggest them all over the map and for me the very best one will be no more than five blocks away. I choose to shop at the grocery that’s closest (even if there’s more “rif-raf,” as one unenlightened friend put it) because it’s close, yes, but they also hire people with disabilities to bag the groceries. I go to the little local libraries and trust inter-library loan to do its job when I need something they don’t carry. The rec center, my dentist, your first eye doctor are all at the east end of our neighborhood along a wooded bike trail.  

We moved to Denver from Portland, Oregon just about the time Denver was rated the 49th best city to live in in America. It's not like Portland though. One of the things we loved about Portland was its commitment to community. Driving through the Alberta Arts district or Sellwood or Rose City you see little storefronts with fruit stands, eye doctors, Pho, bike repair shops and dog washing hotels. You don’t have to wonder how they stay in business because it’s inherent in the culture that those neighbors will give them all the business they need. They’ll learn their names, talk about their kids and invite each other to their passion-of-the-moment lectures. Portland taught me to be a good neighbor and that if I had to drive eleven miles for the very best coffee shop then I was really missing the point of being a Portlander.  So, I still try to still be a Portlander. I just live in Denver.

We're in this position frequently enough, taking the cars to the shop. As a result we got to know our mechanic, Jim, who owned a shop on the next street over through the neighborhood to the north.  Because Jim was seriously a block away it was very easy to put these beasts in neutral and push them over there when we needed to; Dad would push and I would steer. Which is what we did the first time we had a real problem. And what we did a year ago, twice, when the motherboard in the van fried.

I think he knew that we were coming to him with every little windfall check we received -- escrow overages, insurance refunds, tax returns -- they all seemed to have Jim's name in the memo line. When money drops out of the sky we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that we can get ahead or that we can send you kids to something snazzy called college. We look at where our boat is leaking and plug the hole.  Jim helped with this.  He was the kind of mechanic that wouldn't fix something unless it really needed to be fixed. Breaks are squeaking? Don’t worry about it, there’s enough left on the pads yet. He could fix that other thing, but it really doesn’t need to be done yet. And you might think about replacing the tires in the next few months. No rush. 

I appreciated that about Jim. He really seemed to want to help. I remember we'd take the van to him in the morning and then walk to our coffee shop to work on school while we waited for it. One time, when Jim was done with it, he walked over, ordered himself a coffee, sat down with us, handed me my keys and said, "So, how's life?"  Jim was a true dude. 

Dad left this morning with his truck and our tax return and my instruction to try not to spend all the money. He called me a little later saying that it just was what it was and we'd need to spend more than we thought. I’ll take it and claim “abundantly more than we can ask or imagine” anyway.  However, today he didn't go to Jim because Jim is gone. 

The last time Dad took a car to Jim it was to fix our intake manifold, which had some nasty leak and was somehow connected to why I didn’t have heat for about a year. Dad first thought it was a thermostat issue and spent $10 replacing that himself on a cold day in mid-winter Colorado. I adore him for trying so hard to spend our money well. But I just might love him more when he assents to letting the mechanic diagnose and repair the problem. At least I do when my hands are freezing to the steering wheel. The intake manifold turned into a whole host of problems in the cooling system and we pretty much spent that winter at Jim's shop, to visit our money.

At the end of that process Dad called me one day and sad, “Jim’s gone. He sold the shop.” And then he unfolded a wonderful story that sounded an awful lot like selling everything and following Jesus. As far as I know, Jim is currently in Texas helping others build and rebuild things. He put what he had into an RV and took off to be a light in the world. I’m amazed that a guy my age could manage to do something so heroic and I'm so honored to have been a patron for a guy with a heart like that. 

I'm also pretty satisfied that our commitment to community, in part, funded his passion that in turn rekindled my commitment to keep investing in this place where God’s planted me. When we go out to eat, I try to stay close to the house. When I call for your orthodontist consultation, I'm going to call the guy who's in the same building as my dentist. And the coffee shop behind the house will forever be our second office. 

The new shop owner’s name is Joe. Joe isn't exactly like Jim and so we've priced some jobs out to other shops as a result.  But I know that if something goes really wrong, I can slide the van into neutral and get it to a shop that has a legacy of leaps of faith, risk taking adventure and community care.  That's something I can get behind.

Pay attention to the kinds of things you're supporting. It matters to lives that are other than your own.