To this day, I don’t know how I survived my first year living in California. It’s mathematically impossible.
I can still picture my 24 year self, this Indiana kid arriving in Berkley that first day, getting out of the van and stepping onto the curb with nothing but 2 duffel bags, a camera, a laptop, and a wish: to make movies.
The year between that moment… and finally getting to make my first movie… was the hardest year of my young life.
When I hear people say “College broke,” I laugh because there’s several rungs on the ladder between that and the dirt you put the ladder on. Because in college, if you live on campus you might be on a meal plan, you know where you are living, and if you live close by you can take your laundry home with you for mom to do. Let me educate you for a moment:
“Free sample dinner” broke.
I couldn’t afford the Costco membership, so the next best thing was the deli counter at Ralphs. You could ask to “taste” a couple different types of deli meats. The key is to really sell that you are torn between a couple types, and then need to confer with your wife whose shopping on the other side of the store. This gives you the opportunity to sneak out with your pride in tact.
“4 mile walk” broke.
Sometimes you miss the last bus or train and have to walk the rest of the way home. In San Francisco at the time, you could buy a bus ticket, then only pay a quarter for the transfer ticket home. So I used this scheme to meet a prospective client. But the meeting went long, and I discovered that there’s a limited window to use that transfer ticket… which I missed. Cue the 4 mile walk.
“Living on a cot in [fill in the blank random location]” broke
A bedroom. A garage. An office. The middle of someones living room. That cot was all that was between me and the floor for several months. Setting it up every night, then tearing it down because the guy I was living with didn’t want me to damage his new couch.
“Turning off your phone plan” broke.
This scared my mom the most. She’d try to call me and I’d be disconnected cause I couldn’t afford the $35 for my Virgin mobile monthly minute plan.
“A homeless guy gave me money” broke.
While I worked at a cafe for tips and a free meal, there was a homeless guy named “300” who was a regular. He found out that I was moving soon and he handed me a BART metro card. “Here, you could use this,” he told me. “I think this has $5 on it.” When I asked why he didn’t want it, 300 responded, “Because there are people looking to kill me on the train.” So yes… a homeless guy gave me money.
Makes “college broke” sound like a life-goal, right?
Well one day I was starving. It was still another day till I would get to work at the cafe again and the hunger that day was so bad I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I opened the freezer for some hope. And it came… in the form of an almost empty box with two ego waffles in it.
They were my roommates, but I ate them anyways. I’d ask for forgiveness later.
John gets home a couple hours later, so I tell him I ate the last of the waffles. I’d try to get him a new box sometime later.
A day or two goes by and I’m back again with no food left. Stomach growling, and I head back to the freezer once more. And I look… and there’s a huge box in there. It’s almost completely packed the freezer out. I pull it out, and it’s a 72 pack of Ego waffles. Then I notice someone had taken a sharpie to the side of the package. It said two words, “For J.B.” John had gone and not only replaced the ones I ate, but he bought me more. And SO MANY more that I wouldn’t even be able to eat them all.
I’d do just about anything for that guy. If he called right now and we were having a fancy dinner somewhere, I’d interrupt mid-sentence to answer him. If he needed a helping hand, I’d be on a plane. I don’t know exactly what it is, but when you have someone in your life see you, love you, and show you compassion you didn’t ask for, it penetrates to the soul.
You want to know how much a 72 count box of waffles costs? $9.99. They are even on sale for $6.99 at Costco right now, the place my family and I go almost every Sunday after church. The place I couldn’t go in cause I couldn’t afford the $59 yearly fee. And the place someone showed me extravagant generosity.