meet Jude

Gonna tell you about a customer, a really lovely soul who's become a buddy of mine, and who performed an incredible kindness for me a few days ago.

Jude is a nursing student who up until classes started up recently, was driving for Uber. He's never come into the restaurant as a courier, though. He's only ever come in to order food, and now, as a regular, to hang out and chat me up.

Jude is a couple years older than me, and more than a few times we've connected over our GenX politics and sense of humor. We don't have a ton of time to talk - I'm working after all - but we're clearly simpatico. If it were 1987, we'd be sitting in the back of the class together, cutting up. He's smart and funny and unfiltered, except when politeness requires otherwise. My whole staff loves him. He makes it a point to learn everyone's names, to use them, to tip well, and to compliment our service, our food, and our vibes. 

For the first few weeks he called me Boss Lady. I'd hear his deep voice easily from the office where I'd be working: "Is Boss Lady here?" I'd come out from the back of the store, point at him, he'd point back. Jude's a big guy with a big presence. He has ADHD, which I have come to realize is a thing that I am inexplicably drawn to. I don't know what it is. I've had a few different people with ADHD tell me that I'm comforting to be around - that I have a calming energy. So maybe it's a yin yang thing? Not sure, but I definitely find people with ADHD to have a kind of light and spirit and quickness I'm really attracted to.

Anyway, he'd summon me from my dungeon of an office and we'd go sit outside while the kitchen was making his food. Just talk for a few minutes about his classes, or about driving, about my work or sometimes other customers. He found out about the issue I was having with a former employee - the one that necessitated a restraining order - and he offered to drive me to the courthouse if I needed a ride. 

When Jude discovered that I had three hours of walking every day to get to and from work, he was horrified. He became obsessed with my shoes. "Vans? You're wearing fucking Vans to walk three hours a day? No. Absolutely not. What size are you?" I laughed him off, but did end up switching to Allbirds a few weeks later. The upgrade did not satisfy Jude. "What the fuck are those?" he pointed at my already filthy cement-grey knit shoes

"They're Allbirds," I protested. "They're made from trees! Super lightweight, so much more comfortable than the Vans, I promise."

Jude was unimpressed. "They look like socks. What's the matter with you? Those are a travesty." He pointed at the thick-soled tennis shoes on his own feet. "These are your next shoes. These are the most comfortable shoes I've ever had. All the nurses wear them."

Eventually he extracted my shoe size from me, saying something about his female roommate's extra pair. "Oh," he said. "No, you're not her size. Oh well." But Jude took that piece of information, squirreled it away until I'd forgotten about it - up until a few nights ago when he came in, ordered some food, stood around while we caught up, and finally pointed at the cabinet where we store all of our to go bags. 

"Give me a bag," he said. I reached for a small kraft handle bag. "No," Jude said, leaning past me to grab our largest paper bag. "Come with me," he commanded.

We walked out to his car in the dark. He was parked in the unlit, weed-filled alley and cracked a joke about murdering me. Then he opened the passenger's side of his car and I saw the shoe box sitting on the seat. I lost it immediately. Cupped my hands to my mouth, turned and walked a few feet in the opposite direction, not saying a word. Didn't stand a chance, just started crying immediately.

"Oh stop it. It's just a pair of shoes. Come on, knock it off."

I turned around and just looked him in the eye silently. Not just a pair of shoes, and he knew it. I made sure my face fully communicated how incredibly moved and grateful I was before I looked back at the box. Electric blue with only the large letters HOKA printed across the side. I'd never heard of the brand. But looking at the box it was clear they were expensive.

"You're standing and walking all day. Those things on your feet make me cry, they're a joke." He gestured at the box on his car seat. "Try them on." 

I opened the box and pulled out a pair of lightweight but sturdy sky blue trainers with blue and pink laces. Obviously high quality, with two inches of cushioning that when I put them on, gave me the two inches of height I always wish I had. They fit perfectly. I took a few steps, marveling at how well molded and supportive they were. I couldn't stop shaking my head. "Jude. Jude." 

"Alright, alright. Relax. You can put them in the bag, so no one sees. Unless you need the bag to go take a shit or something." I put the sneakers back into their bright blue box, then put the box in the deep paper bag. We walked back to the front of my store, where I stood on the curb to gain a bit of height and be closer to eye level with Jude, who caught me up on the nursing school project he was working on. 

"You know," I started, "it's a a really good thing you're going to do that for a living, because your heart is way too big for any other kind of work."

He waved it off, wouldn't meet my eye for more than a second. 

Later, I looked up Hoka shoes. This person who was a stranger to me a couple of months ago spent two bills on me. As a student, on a student's budget. I'm not sure why. Sometimes the universe doesn't explain itself. But now all day every day when I am in the throes of being busy, stressed out, and exhausted, I have a constant reminder of this incredible kindness. I have comfort.

Kicker of an epilogue, too: Jude was my mother's favorite saint, the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. He meant so much to her in fact, that eventually when I get around to dropping my first name and officially becoming Elizabeth - Jude is one of two names I've considered changing my middle name to, in honor of her.

Sometimes the universe doesn't explain itself - but still somehow manages to make perfect sense.