Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Last Ticket

When I left the office today, I hopped into my car, checked the temperature, and seeing that it was a balmy 76 degrees, I dropped the top and loaded up a heady mix of music to accompany the ride home.  I was cruising, weaving through the Old Alabama Road traffic on a beautiful afternoon, and looking forward to leftover homemade pizza for dinner.  As I neared home, I dropped into Chastain Cleaners to pick up the laundry I'd left over a week ago, and when I walked into the shop, I saw something that stopped me in my tracks.  It was a simple hand-lettered sign that read:

Store Closing
Pick-up Only
No Drop-Off
$10 Credit Card Minimum

Granted, in these trying economic times, it's not unusual to see businesses fold, but this one was different.  The proprietor, a tiny lady about my age named Kyung, was one of those people integral to the fabric of a neighborhood, a hard worker who always had a smile, regardless of the weather or the line of customers waiting at the counter.  I could be rushing in on a Monday morning or slogging in at the end of a tough day, but Kyung's smile healed all, not to mention the fact that the work done by the laundry was always flawless and ready on time.

I would typically walk in with a stack (read "pile") of shirts and trousers, and Kyung would ask for my phone number, hand me a yellow ticket, then tell me when to pick up my laundry, always apologizing if the order would take more than a day.  She always remembered the area code and the exchange, but would ask for the last four digits with a little giggle.  When I would go to pick up my clothes, I would never have my ticket, but Kyung would again ask for the phone number, then retrieve my order in an instant.

Some summer afternoons, the laundry was like a steam bath...I couldn't understand how the staff could stand it.  On frosty winter mornings, the constant opening and closing of the door forced Kyung to wear a heavy gray jacket.  Still, she smiled and patiently awaited my recitation of the phone number.  Sometimes, when I'd stop to pick up my order and the weather was a little dicey, a staff member would take my clean clothes to the car for me...it didn't always happen, but I was grateful for the gesture whenever it did.

So today, as I walked in ticketless to pick up my laundry, I asked Kyung what happened and why she was going out of business.  She told me that the rent on her little shop was a thousand dollars a month, tough to afford in these times, and then she stated simply: "I'm just tired...I can't do it anymore."  I didn't know what to say, but I wished her good luck, and she reached across the counter to take my hand.  As I shook hands with her, I reflected on how many times her smile and good cheer had made my day, and when I exited the shop and got back into my car, I couldn't find the right music to play, so I drove home in silence.

There are so many people out there who work long hours and earn a modest income, yet always seem to have enough spirit left over to share with others.  Kyung was one of those people.  I hope that everything she has ever wished for comes true.

As for me, I think I'm going to save that last ticket.