One morning a couple of years ago, I was at Hugo’s Restaurant in West Hollywood having breakfast. I sat outside at a small table for two. A couple seated at the small bistro table next to me had recently left and the waitress hadn’t yet picked up their plates. To my astonishment, a very handsome young man, dressed in loose clothing, with wavy longish hair and a short beard walked by at a nice clip. He briefly stopped at their table and grabbed a napkin. Then without missing a beat, lifted a spoon, scrapped the last bit of food onto the napkin, then shoveled it into his mouth as he continued walking. He acted without the least hesitation. Without thought. As if he’d done this many times before. I sat stunned. Horrified at what had transpired, I watched him walk the length of the restaurant, then turn right before he disappeared.
When the homeless young man strode off, my heart cried out to stop him, to offer him a meal. But what 60-year-old woman runs after a thirty-year-old homeless guy? So, I did the normal, sane thing, simply sat there and watched him leave. I glanced around at those seated near me and not one of them seemed to have noticed him.
I’ve thought about that young man many times since then, replaying the scene over and over in my head. In my daydream, I call out to him. He stops and turns. I offer to buy him breakfast, and although surprised, he accepts. We sit at the bistro table on a beautiful California morning and I discover more about him over a hearty breakfast.
But, that’s not how it happened.
I thought about those who loved this young man, who worried about him. And mostly, I thought about his mother. As I pondered this man’s condition I played several scenarios in my head. Maybe he was a spy, undercover, and fleeing his most recent captors. Nearly starved. Why else would he eat off the plate of a stranger?
I knew someday I’d use him in a story and give him a reason to do what he did. Thus my undercover journalist hero was born. Then I gave my heroine the heart I’d wished I’d had that day. The heart that was in me, but afraid to act. I gave her the courage to actually go after the homeless man and the will to at least try and change his life.