This year, my wife and I are celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary. It’s extra special, not just because of 37 years, but it’s also the sixth anniversary of her successful treatment and surgery for breast cancer. These two celebrations reminded me of one of those unexpected events that sometimes make life seem stranger than fiction.
While on vacation in Aruba in 2011 with my wife, two of our sons and one of their friends, my wife and I treated our son’s friend (who aspires to be a chef one day) out to a nice open-air seafood restaurant. Our sons went out to arrange for us to explore the island the next day on rented four-wheelers.
Early the next morning, we arrived at the rental shop only to discover we weren’t early enough. They didn’t have four wheelers for us. But they directed us to another rental place a couple miles away. After checking the route, we decided to walk. After about a third of the way, we started questioning if we had understood the directions.
While walking through a family neighborhood, we decided to do the unmanly thing and ask for directions from a man who was washing his car. Trying not to look completely lost, we asked about the rental shop and if were we heading the right direction.
Later we had to confess we weren’t completely surprised when he told us, “You are heading in the right direction, but I don’t think they are still in business.” Now comes the truly unexpected part.
He offered to take us to see if the place was still in business, and told his wife he would be taking a break to help these strangers. After he rinsed the soap off the car, we headed out.
It turned out he was correct. The shop was no longer in business. He offered to drop us off where we were staying, and I will never forget the look on his face when we said we were staying at the Marriott Ocean Club. It so happened that was where he worked, and he was more than happy to take us there.
Now, our rescuer didn’t just work at the resort. He was the senior sous chef for all of the resort’s restaurants. When he discovered one of the boys was interested in being a chef, he offered to give us a tour of the kitchens.
The tour was amazing. We learned about the massive effort, teamwork and attention to detail required to support the resort’s nine restaurants, plus the various bars and grills. He was an excellent host, but also a very good salesman. Before the tour was over, I had made reservations for my bride and I to dine at the resort’s Ruth’s Chris Steak House that night. Sure, it was outside of our budget, but we were on vacation and it was our wedding anniversary. And we had some extra cash because we didn’t end up renting the four-wheelers. So all was good.
This in itself makes a good story, but I must confess that the dinner experience was over the top. I don’t know if you have had the opportunity to watch the movie “Last Holiday” with Queen Latifah . If you have, then you will remember how Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu) made Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) feel special by focusing on her table during dinner. Chef Charles Wagner and the entire Ruth’s Chris staff made my bride feel like Queen Latifah. Chef Wagner made frequent stops to check on us during the meal and the evening wrapped up with one of his special dessert plates. By the looks from the other guests in the restaurant, you could tell they were trying to figure out if we were celebrities.
The rest of the story
Our trip was not only a special vacation, but because of the willingness to take a few extra minutes with a group of lost souls, Chef Charles Wagner made a connection and represented Marriott in a way that was above the call of duty by creating an unexpected connection. What makes this story extra special to me is that my wife had just completed her chemo and surgery from breast cancer the year before. She was still having to take special medicine to help reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.
While we didn’t focus on the potential of a re-occurrence at that time, it was a harsh reality that it could come back. We, like Georgia Byrd, had already had enough reality, and this vacation was a much-needed break from the past couple of years of life’s challenges. We have now passed major milestones without a re-occurrence and feel truly blessed for every year we have had together. Yesterday I was sharing with one of my coworkers and she challenged me to write a blog telling the rest of the story.
In today’s dog-eat-dog world it’s to get caught up in the rat race of daily events. Technology sometimes makes it too easy to focus on production process and ignore the time required to develop relationships. It would have been so easy for Chef Wagner to have given us the directions and let us continue on our adventure. But by the choices he made, he demonstrated that when we take a minute to connect, we can make a real difference in those we come in contact with.
We never know what’s happening in someone’s life and like us, they may not even realize it themselves. But when we take a few extra minutes to connect, we can really make a difference by creating ripples into the future. So the challenge is to take a few moments to explore purposeful connections. You may find yourself making an unexpected connection that creates life experience and a memory worthy of sharing. And just by that sharing, you may be able to make a difference like Chef Wagner.