Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving is dedicated to Laura

My friend Laura and I go out for wine or beer before our Toastmasters meetings on Thursdays, because if I have to talk in front of others, it’s in the best interest of the audience that I have a glass of something. I don’t have any feelings about Toastmasters one way or the other, but I joined in an act of solidarity with my friend. She wanted to pursue public speaking excellence; my speaking goals were a little more rudimentary (ie, don’t barf or pass out). Toastmasters was a way for Laura and I to stay in contact after she left her job at the dealership, where we had worked together for 9 years.

Looking back, I cannot say for sure when Laura and I went from being co-workers to being friends. While not my immediate supervisor, she definitely ranked above me at the dealership and was not afraid to call me out on my decisions, or support me in my challenges. A mutual trust built over the years, which blossomed into small outings such as lunch or drinks. I suspect the turning point was when she began to build her dream house.

Shortly after the floor plans were drawn, she invited me to be a witness to her home-building adventures. I saw architectural schematics, toured skeletal beginnings, helped with paint color decisions, and walked through landscaping progress reports. I listened to Laura with rapt fascination, not because I cared about the house per se, but because I found her enthusiasm to be vicariously intoxicating. Laura’s entire face would light up when describing what others would consider mundane construction issues. I delighted in listening to all of it.

The coolest part about the project was how much she deserved this dream home. She had saved and sacrificed her entire life to be able to afford it. One Christmas she even made her husband return a piece of jewelry he bought her, because it was too expensive. She was frugal, savvy and conservative: in other words, she was the complete opposite of me. Delayed gratification and saving were hallmarks of her existence, and I didn’t even have those words in my vocabulary.

The final product was a sight to behold. It was beautiful and smart, open and airy, natural and elegant. The home was made for entertaining, and Laura was happy to find opportunities to do so. When my sister wanted to throw me and Kev an engagement party, Laura agreed to co-host it and welcomed all our guests into her dream home.


Laura is in the white sweater behind me and Kev. Also in this photo are many friends from the book club Laura and I attend together. The night of this party, I coerced many of these people to  be interviewed in front of a video camera, telling stories about me and Kevin, as well as offering advice for our upcoming union. In this video, Laura tells the story of the day she and I jumped out of an airplane, a mutual goal made more memorable because we experienced it together.

Although Laura’s house has been a dream come true for her, her dream vacation did not turn out as well. Laura had long wished to travel to Ireland, and planned it for months. With her normally meticulous approach, she mapped out the detailed itinerary that she and her husband Gene would enjoy for two weeks. At first, it looked like the vacation was all she had imagined- we were seeing zip line photos on her Facebook page, and hearing of Irish pub adventures. Then suddenly the trip turned into a nightmare, as she faced a medical crisis in a countryside ill-equipped to respond. An emergency surgery stabilized her enough to get home, where doctors would open her up and find that much damage had been done. It would take Laura many months and multiple hospital visits to recover, often veering into serious territory.

Throughout her medical ordeal, I observed Laura’s tremendous grace under pressure. Despite her scary predicaments and physical discomfort, she remained upbeat and outgoing. She pushed herself to heal, shared her story with brutal candor and not a hint on whining or embarrassment. I found even more admiration for my friend during these months, wondering if I could endure the same situation with half her grace. I was grateful to be a witness to that much character, and honored to call her my friend.

Laura joked that she spent every holiday in the hospital- Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day. Now that she is finally healing for good and her last surgery is behind her, it seems fitting that we approach her first healthy holiday in six months: Thanksgiving. Although in many ways Laura and I are quite different, in her I have a kindred spirit who enjoys a sense of adventure, a passion for learning new things and of course, someone who understands the value of a little drink before a speech. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

Thankful for Randomness

In 1988 I went to Atlanta with a co-worker named Mark to party with some of his friends; one of them was an auto mechanic and part-time race car driver. I thought the mechanic/driver was cute, so of course I feigned an interest in cars to make conversation. By the end of the night, mechanic/driver and I had arranged for me to bring my car from Athens to Atlanta for a major service, and in return I would treat him to dinner. His name was Charlie, and we dated on-and-off for a couple years. It ended amicably, and we’re even Facebook friends today.


At Road Atlanta, 1989

The reason I mention this story is not because Charlie (the guy) was significant in my life, but because Charlie’s passion (the cars) stuck with me. Our random meeting led to my life taking a distinctly different turn. Had I not gone to Atlanta that night, I would have never been exposed to the automotive world. Though we had long since broken up, Charlie was somewhere in the back of my psyche when I told my sister in 1997, “I want to move to Augusta; watch the classifieds for me.” I told her I would sell either cosmetics (which I had done before) or cars. She kept an eye out for sales openings and in no time, I was driving to Augusta for interviews.

If you know anything about the car business, you know that there is always a dealership looking for sales professionals; it has got to be the highest turnover of any industry. In a matter of weeks, I was making plans to move to Augusta. Because of this fortuitous turn of events, my life evolved into a new career, and ultimately I would meet the most significant person in my life-Kevin. In addition to being the most amazing service manager this town has ever seen, he is the most amazing human being I have ever met.  Without the interest in cars I adopted from Charlie, I would never have met Kevin, and my life would have traveled down an entirely divergent path.


Ang with love of her life

Kevin has made so much possible in my life, and followers of my blog have heard many of those stories. One which I’ve not yet mentioned is the thoughtful surprise he arranged for me: to be a driver of a racecar at the Richard Petty experience. In terms of adrenaline, it only matches jumping out of a plane for powerful life memories. That’s an experience I wouldn’t have had without Kevin.


I’m sure the career path from cosmetics to cars is an unusual one, but I’ve loved both industries equally. I’ve been able to drive the latest cars, learn the newest technology and meet the coolest people. In my early days at Saturn, I was introduced to Dave Rosenblum, who coordinated an inner-city youth racing program in which at-risk teens worked as part of a pit crew. We brought Dave and his car to Augusta, and he spoke at Evans High School about the importance of staying clean and working hard.


Inner city youth race car, circa 1998

Meeting people like Dave and driving Richard Petty-level race cars are life moments I will always cherish, and there was a certain randomness that brought them to me. Having sensed this randomness at a young age, I’ve long been intrigued by small decisions that have metamorphic results. I often ask couples how they initially met, are there is always a similarly arbitrary set of events that led to their life-changing connection. It makes me aware and appreciative of the power of taking risks, as well as the power of making ostensibly innocent decisions.

Whether or not indiscriminate circumstances are the result of divine intervention, destiny, karma, or natural chaos is not the purpose of this blog. Regardless of the source of the coincidences which bring people together, there is an inherently magical or miraculous feeling which can inspire tremendous gratitude. While I subscribe to the theory that I must take ownership of the events in my life, I also acknowledge that I have been tremendously lucky or blessed, depending on your POV. Ever-grateful, I can say a prayer for the immense blessings of my life, but I think it is also nice to be somewhat indebted to Mark and Charlie, good guys that fortunately crossed my path at the right time, and opened up a world I never would have known otherwise.