When I woke up this morning I glanced at my phone and saw that it was 1 degree outside. Frankly, I could go for a little global warming about now. Also, I would like to thank the good people of Atlanta, Georgia for making the winter driving skills of Short Pumpians look positively Olympian by comparison. Of course in their defense, Atlanta gets a snow storm once every ten years or so, we get snow 4 or 5 times a year, EVERY year and still manage to wrap our cars around telephone polls as if we are shocked, SHOCKED that the roads are slippery.
A little further south in Birmingham, Alabama comes a story that helps restore my confidence in the human race. A Chick-fil-A restaurant near highway 280 found itself snowed in and the nearby interstate filled with iced in travelers stuck in a parking lot for hours. The owner, Mark Meadows, sent his employees home early, but soon they all returned because the roads were impassable. It was then that Meadows realized that he had stumbled upon a potential gold mine, hundreds of stranded, hungry potential customers trapped on the interstate, the quintessential captive audience. He could walk out to that highway with hundreds of chicken sandwiches and waffle fries, charge triple the normal price and sell them all in less than thirty minutes. Some of those people had been trapped in their cars for seven hours! This would be like taking candy from a baby, it would make his month!
Only, that’s not how this story turned out. We’ve become accustomed to profiteers, opportunists who line their pockets by jacking up the price from everything from plywood to diapers during a hurricane, it happens so often we expect it. People who behave in this manner talk about supply and demand, covering their greed with talk of economic theory, as if academic discussions of the laws of scarcity can possibly salve their consciences. Not so with Mr. Mark Meadows of Birmingham, Alabama.
He instructed his employees to help him carry as many warm sandwiches as they could make through the snow and ice a mile walk to highway 280…and give them all away. Then he opened up his store for the entire night for anyone stranded who might need a warm place to sleep. The next morning everyone who took him up on his offer got a hot breakfast biscuit before they were sent on their way, all on the house.
Chick-fil-A is a money making machine of a franchise. Many of its most successful operators are among the evil 1%, no doubt. But, there is something else going on at many of their restaurants. Many of them have figured out the central truth that being in business isn’t always about money. Listen, we all want to make money. I take a back seat to no one when it comes to celebrating the notion of profit. But if the profit motive is the only thing a business has, an empty life will be the result.
I have friends who own a Chick-fil-A franchise. Mark and Becky Baldwin are the kind of people who would do the same thing as Mark Meadows did. In fact, they have done so before. They give away an awful lot of food, the cost of which comes off their bottom line. But it doesn’t take a government program to force their generosity, just the noble hearts of good men and women. If more of us out of simple gratefulness for our good fortune would develop a generous spirit, the world would be a far better place.