My best friend and I have birthdays only 10 days apart. We have often joked over the course of our 20+ year friendship that our birthday season begins in September and ends in August the following year… because some years it takes us that long to carve out time to get together and celebrate! (Seriously!) This year as we were ticking off the busy weekends on our calendars, we realized there was one night where both of us had no plans. NO PLANS?! Really?! How could this be? Without stressing over logistics (Who would watch the children?), we quickly made the decision to meet halfway between her house and mine and spend the evening together.
Being October, we were delighted to discover that Busch Gardens amusement park was still open on Friday nights for their Howl-o-Scream festivities. Although we weren’t all that interested in getting spooked by creepy people, we were very excited to finally, for the first time ever, ride a roller coaster together! We entered the park, purchased a glow-in-the-dark beverage, and made our way to Busch Garden’s newest roller coaster, the Verbolten, talking non-stop the entire way.
The lines were relatively short, so we were strapped into the coaster in no time. Here are some more pics of our adventure!
The Verbolten sign
Strapped in, getting ready to start the ride
Finishing the final hill
What a fun night! We rode more roller coasters, laughing and screaming the entire time. (You would have thought we were teenagers the way we were carrying on! Ha!) When the park made their closing announcements at 10pm, we reluctantly made our way back to the parking lot, not quite ready for our evening of birthday celebrations to end. Suddenly hungry, we decided to continue our evening of catching up with some breakfast dinner at a local iHOP.
As we entered the restaurant, we were surprised to see the place was packed with teenagers! Oh my! Luckily, we still had gifts to exchange and lots of conversation to share so the delay in being served wasn’t a huge issue for us.
As we sat down and scanned the menu, my attention was swayed to to HUGE cup of salted caramel hot chocolate shown on the bottom of the front page. The cup was massive and I could almost taste the delicate mixture of salt, caramel, and chocolate melting on my tongue. Unfortunately, it had a price to match its girth, so I was torn about whether or not to order the drink. As I was debating the pros and cons with Lisa, the waitress arrived to take our orders. After introducing herself as Jeannie, pointing to the plastic name badge on her shirt, she pointed to my menu. “Oh honey,” she drawled with a southern flair, “That drink right there is worth every single sip. It is the best drink we have to serve!” Well, who could resist a recommendation like that?
I ordered the specialty hot chocolate and Lisa ordered a regular coffee. We chatted back and forth as we continued to interact with our waitress who checked on us often. “Whose birthday is it?” Jeannie asked, pointing at our brightly colored gift bags. We told her we were celebrating both our special days and she clapped her hands together, beaming with excitement. “I just love birthdays! Open your gift! What did you get?” We had to laugh at her enthusiasm – it was as if she was celebrating her own birthday right in the mix of ours.
A little while later she arrived with the colossal cup of steaming hot chocolate and we made a production of taking photos to document all the fun:
Me (looking a bit windblown from all the roller coasters) with our iHOP waitress and THE CUP
Even Lisa got in on the photo fun!
Two hours later (I am not kidding!), Lisa and I were still enjoying our time together with Jeannie checking on us and sharing in our conversation. That’s when it hit me. Here is this lady, working the night shift as a waitress at an iHOP on a Friday night, with mostly teenagers as customers (who by now had left the restaurant leaving behind minimal tips, I’m sure.) What was her story? Why was she working here? Did the night shift pay more than the day shift? I didn’t want to pry, but I felt like I needed to bless this gal who made the end of our birthday celebration so memorable and joyful. Reaching into my purse, I discovered some mad money birthday cash I had received as a gift and knew I would receive greater happiness by paying it forward instead of using it for myself.
I quickly jotted a note on the back of the receipt and left it with a ten dollar tip on the table. Surely that would brighten the darkness of her night shift!
We quickly left our tip, paid our bill, and said our final goodbyes before the long drive home. It was a wonderful way to end our evening of friendship and fun!
This random act of kindness is dedicated to Josephine Gay, age 7, a darling little girl who was found in the arms of her behavioral therapist, Rachel D’Avino, following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy. Joesephine had a nervous system disorder and could not speak, but she had learned how to share her thoughts with those around her through signs and smiles. She was the joy of her parents, despite the challenges of her condition. It was humbling to realize what a gift I had been given during my time with Lisa – an entire evening filled with so many words, so many stories, all taken for granted. Humbling, indeed.
Keep pressing forward, my friends. Be kind to others. Stop and listen to their stories. Join in the fun and allow yourself to be blessed in the process!