The first yes (sort of).
Over the course of two days, we’d driven 1,300 miles and 19 hours, stopping in Amarillo, Texas for the night. If you’ve never been to Amarillo, Texas…don’t go to Amarillo, Texas.
Upon arriving in Grants, Ricky and I stopped at a chain restaurant for lunch. We’d spotted a half-dozen subdivisions on our way into town. It was decided that Ricky would start begging for shelter at the first one we saw, and I’d start at the last one. We’d meet in the middle. If either of us got a good lead, we’d call the other.
Another 30 minutes later, I sat in my car trying to psych myself up to get out of the car. I was about to go ask complete strangers if they would take in me and my buddy for the summer. Preferably for free, but we’d pay if we had to. The asinine nature of the entire idea was light-years outside my comfort zone. But, unfortunately, shelter is one of the most basic of human needs, so I had better start knocking on some doors.
I parked along the curb of the main street running through the middle of the neighborhood. I targeted a blue house with a car parked in the driveway, meaning someone was home. Go time.
I stood at the end of the driveway no less than six minutes. It’s a miracle no one called the police. I was completely overwhelmed with anxiety. All the adrenaline from the sales conference was completely gone. I finally took the first few steps toward the front door by telling myself it was merely like ripping off a band-aid. It might sting for a second, but it would be over no time.
Moments later, I knocked on the door, took two steps back, turned to the side (just like I was taught at boot camp), and prayed ferociously that no one came to the door (very much unlike what I was taught at boot camp). Footsteps. Then nothing, but I had a feeling I was being examined through the peephole. Finally, the click of the deadbolt sliding open. My prayers evidently fell on deaf ears.
“Can I help you?” She seemed nice. Two of her kids stood a few feet behind her, curiously watching the strange young man sweating bullets. To be fair, it was ridiculously hot.
“Hi, yeah. My name is Sam, and I’m in town for the summer selling books door-to-door.”
“Oh, thanks but we’re not interested.” She started closing the door before I could comprehend what she’d said.
“Oh, no, no. I’m not selling books yet! I’m actually here for another reason,” I laughed nervously. It was then that it dawned on me that a home with a young family likely wouldn’t be a good landing spot for two college-aged guys to crash for the summer.
The door opened back up slightly and she peered out at me, waiting for me to tell her what I wanted.
“Um. Okay, so this is going to sound crazy, but my friend and I are here for the summer, and we’ll be selling books, but we don’t have a place to stay yet. I was wondering if you knew of anyone who had a spare bedroom we could stay in.”
She was incredulous. She opened her eyes real wide and smirked at me, shaking her head at such an odd question.
“Look, I don’t know anyone with a spare room, and I gotta say, I don’t think you’ll find what you’re looking for. Good luck, though.”
And with that, the door shut, the deadbolt slid back in place, and a trio of footsteps went back to whatever they’d been doing a minute earlier.
Over the next few hours, the No’s kept coming, but the rejection bothered me less each time. That’s not to say I wasn’t anxious, just that I felt pretty confident that I could still get a fairly decent night of sleep in my car, if absolutely necessary. But the tide would have to turn at some point, so I kept knocking on doors, perfecting my pitch between each house. Finally, I didn’t get a no. Well, not a hard no, at least.
It must have been the 20th house I visited. I knocked on the door of a quaint stucco home with brown shutters on the corner of an intersection. The door opened and the conversation started just like all the others. I explained what me and Ricky were trying to do, the homeowner cocked her head to the side and stared blankly at me. After asking a few concern-laden questions, the woman invited me into her home.
She offered me something to drink as we made our way to her dining room table. I said no, but she got some water anyway. It dawned on me that I probably looked pretty ragged. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t use the sympathy to my advantage.
We talked for a few more minutes before she abruptly stood up from her chair and went into the other room to make a call. By the tone of her voice, I assumed she was talking to her husband, who was evidently on his way back home from a golf outing. Could this be it? Was this really going to work? There’s no freaking way this is going to work, I told myself. But for the first time all day, I didn’t get an immediate “no”. The slightest bit of hope crept into my head. Was our luck about to change?
The woman came back into the room, explaining that her husband would be home soon. We made small talk over the next ten minutes, which was basically me trying to sound as normal as possible. I didn’t want to give this lady any reason to kick me out of her house.
Her husband arrived and within a few minutes, he was asking all sorts of very pointed and very personal questions. I didn’t blame him, but I didn’t particularly like it either. After grilling me for 15 or 20 minutes, the man sat back in his chair and thought. He liked me. I could tell he was somewhat conflicted, which, frankly, was the best news I’d gotten all day. I quickly turned on my very best puppy dog eyes and charm. Those of you who know me well know that I’m not a charmer, per se. But, I can be good at faking it.
“Call your buddy,” the man instructed. “Call Ricky and have him come here. I’d like to meet him.”
Ricky was there no more than five minutes after I hung up with him. That surprised me, because I thought he’d been on the other side of town. It was clear to me that he’d given up on the door-to-door begging and was hoping I’d get something figured out.
The husband and wife went to the front door together to greet Ricky. When the three of them came back into the dining room, I could see that the wife was somewhat irked. It didn’t make sense to me until Ricky took the seat next to mine. He reeked of cigarettes. I don’t think she liked that very much.
We talked a little longer before the incredibly hospitable couple left the room to mull over their decision.
“Dude, nice place, eh,” Ricky said.
“Yeah, I guess so. Seriously though, this lady is the first person to even invite me inside. If they don’t take us in, we’re freakin’ screwed, man.”
“Ehh,” Ricky shrugged dismissively. I hated him with everything I had in that moment. “We’ll find something. Worst case, we’ll find a cheap motel tonight and try again tomorrow.”
No – I thought – I’ll try again tomorrow while you chain-smoke two packs of cigarettes in your air-conditioned car!
I think the heat must have gotten to me. I really liked Ricky, but in that moment, desperate for good news and a safe, clean place to sleep, I didn’t care to hear anything optimistic coming from him. I was cranky.
The husband and wife made their way back to the dining room and sat down. They glanced at each other awkwardly, and I sensed a bad vibe.
“Well, I’ve got good news and bad news,” he started. I hated him with everything I had in that moment. This cliche machine was getting ready to tell me I was homeless.
“We can’t keep you for the summer here with us. That’s the bad news.” Yeah, boss. I figured that one out. “But here’s what we’re going to do. We like you guys and think you’ve got a long summer ahead of you. This area isn’t the safest, with the prison and the gangs and all, so we don’t feel right just turning you away. So, we’re gunna put you guys up in a hotel for the night, but under one condition.”
What? Prison and gangs? A condition? What the hell was happening?
“Name it,” Ricky blurted.
“Tomorrow’s Sunday. We want you boys to come to church with us. Like I said, we can’t keep you this summer, but you may have better luck finding a place to stay with some of the other folks from our church.”
“Deal,” I said. I’d had enough door-to-door for one day. This opportunity presented a new lead, and that was good enough for me.
We thanked the couple profusely. The husband gave us the address to the hotel and the church, and we got the hell out of there. That was one of the things we learned at sales boot camp: once you close the sale, get out quickly before the customer has a chance to change their mind.
It dawned on me that it was probably too late for me to change my mind about where I was going to spend my summer. Ricky and I still had a lot to figure out, but at least we had one more day to do so.♦