Being that this was back before the invention of cell phones, we had to rely on places where people could hang out, in order to make connections. That place, in my town, was McDonald’s. So, off to McDonald’s we would drive on any given Friday or Saturday night. Upon pulling in we would know immediately if it was going to be a good night or not, simply by the cars in the parking lot. For, in my town, everyone knew what everyone else drove.
Teenagers would be all over the place, hanging out by their cars or inside getting food. I always seemed to gravitate to an order of six-piece chicken McNuggets, fries and a Coke. We would then walk around and talk to everyone to see what was happening that night. It was here that we would learn of any parties and any other gossip of the night. I am sure that this scene was super annoying for anyone else, who simply wanted to get some food on a Friday or Saturday night.
On one specific night, as I stood in the parking lot talking to friends, I saw The Bag Man. This was an older gentleman who lived in a motel in our town, just up the road from the McDonald’s. He was somewhat of a local celebrity, at least to us teenagers. Everyone knew of The Bag Man. For everyone had seen him walking up and down the main drag of our town in his long trench coat, fedora and carrying two brown paper bags, the kind with handles.
The thing is this, I had never talked to anyone who had actually ever met The Bag Man. Yes, there were rumors that he was an eccentric millionaire with mental problems or an old Russian spy, who was in exile, hiding from the KGB. Yet, none of these theories had ever been proven or disproven, as far as I knew.
Well, on this night I was overwhelmed by the desire to know. So, without even thinking I hopped over the hedges, that formed a barrier between the McDonald’s parking lot and the sidewalk. Still holding onto my McNuggets, fries and Coke, I ran toward The Bag Man as he walked up the road. I didn’t know what to say, so I just yelled out “Hey, Bag Man. Wait for me.” To which he stopped, turned around and just watched as I ran up the sidewalk to catch up to him.
Once I did catch up to him, he simply continued on his walk without saying a word. We walked for a few minutes in total silence. There was only the sound of the cars passing by on the road. Not knowing why I was there or what I wanted to do, I broke the silence by asking if he would like to share some of my food. To which he simply shook his head side to side as to say “No”.
That is when I guess I got brave and I asked him the question for which everyone wanted an answer: “So, what’s your story?” When I received no immediate response, I nervously continued: “I mean, we all call you The Bag Man. Why do you always walk around with those two brown paper bags?” To which he gruffly answered, without skipping a step or looking at me, “It’s easier to carry my stuff.”
Being that I didn’t know what I was doing or why I was walking and talking with this guy in the first place, the brevity and simplicity of his answer left me sort of flat-footed. So, I simply continued to walk with him in silence. That is when he finally stopped, looked at me and asked his own question: “What do you want kid?”
I don’t know if it was the lingering effects of the Milwaukee’s Best I had enjoyed earlier that evening or the leading of the Holy Spirit (maybe it was a little of both), but I said “I don’t know? And that is the point isn’t it? I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I don’t even know what I want to do tonight. And that just might be the very reason why I am walking on the side of this road with you.” “See,” I continued, “You are somewhat of a celebrity in my circle and when I saw you tonight I wanted to meet you and get to know a little bit about you. Are you an eccentric millionaire who had some kind of mental breakdown or are you a Russian spy hiding from the KGB?”
At that point The Bag Man stopped walking. He turned toward me, set down his two brown paper bags with handles and, for the first time, made eye contact with me. It was then that I realized that this was the first time that I had ever looked into this man’s eyes. Every time, prior to this meeting, when I had seen The Bag Man, his head was down and he was simply walking, as if on a mission. On this night, in this moment, I was truly seeing this man, for the first time.
He looked old, way older than I had imagined. His face was wrinkled, but not in a worn out, haggard kind of way. His wrinkles seemed to trace the lines of laughter. Scares of a life of smiling and enjoyment. His eyes sparkled and his nose had a touch of red, like Santa Claus. Most likely from the liquid in the bottles that I saw in his two brown paper bags with handles.
He took his hands and grabbed both of my arms. He smiled from ear to ear and simply said “Kid, happy is as happy does.” He then winked and made a clicking sound out of the left corner of his mouth. That was it. He then reached down, picked up his two brown paper bags with handles and continued to walk up the street away from me. I just stood there holding my cold chicken McNuggets, fries and Coke.
I then turned around and walked back to the McDonald’s parking lot. As quickly as this whole adventure began, it was now over. I found my friends, who simply thought I was hanging out in some other part of the parking lot this whole time. I never said a word to anyone about what I had done and what I had experienced. I kept my meeting with The Bag Man and what he had said to me, all to myself.
It wouldn’t be long before I would graduate from high school and move away. I never saw or talked to The Bag Man after that night. Was he real? Did it actually happen or was it a dream? I sometimes wondered whatever happened to The Bag Man and what truly was his story? Whatever the case might be, I was and I am still convinced that I entertained an angel unaware that evening, on the side of that road. An angel that wore a long trench coat, a fedora and carried two brown paper bags with handles.
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)