I barely know Jim Barrett. Whenever I see him we have a friendly chat. But that chat usually lasts no more than five minutes. And I only see him once a year. We’re among the guests at a mutual friend’s annual Christmas luncheon.
So, when I thought about calling him to see if I could re-tell a story he shared with the group last Friday, I balked. Who was I to bother this busy man during the holidays?
I wanted to write about coincidences. Albert Einstein, it’s said, called coincidences “God’s way of remaining anonymous.” I shudder at the prospect of questioning Albert Einstein, but I believe he got this one wrong. I believe coincidences are the complete opposite of God remaining anonymous. I believe they are God’s way of talking directly to us. His way of reminding us he is always around and he is always in charge.
They’re signs, these coincidences. Signs from God. And they’re everywhere.
I have a story to illustrate this, a story which I will get into in a bit, but I also wanted to include the one from Jim Barrett. Ultimately, though, I decided to go without it.
Then came, appropriately, a coincidence.
I met my friend Wesley Stout on New Year’s Eve at the outdoor seafood tent at Cooper’s Restaurant in Scranton and he suggested we step into the bar for a quick drink. And there, sitting next to the only vacant stool in the place, was Jim Barrett. Looks like God wanted Jim’s story told even if I was hesitant.
Jim Barrett is president and CEO of Road Scholar Transport. His firm, with headquarters in Dunmore and six other facilities on the East Coast, has 165 employees and 120 tractors, or “power units” as Jim calls them, pulling trailers all over the country. But some 40 of those tractors and trailers are something else. They are rolling billboards.
For the past five years, Jim has painted several of his vehicles to call attention to worthy causes, everything from Make-A-Wish to the American Foundation for the Blind, to Alex’s Lemonade Stand to Parkinson’s Awareness. He calls it Road Scholar’s “Hope in Awareness” program and has been told the trucks, whether subliminally or directly, create 70,000 impressions a day.
It all began when Jim disappointed his wife by passing up a Susan B. Komen Breast Cancer Awareness walk and run because it was on a Saturday. Despite being the boss, Jim goes to work every Saturday. He told his wife he’d make it up to her, and boy, did he. He had a tractor and trailer painted pink and turned it into a rolling billboard for Breast Cancer Awareness.
Now for that sign from God.
About four years ago, a fellow approached Jim to discuss painting a truck for the Children’s Craniofacial Association. The two met over a pizza at Colarusso’s Restaurant in Avoca on a snowy Friday afternoon. Probably due to the weather, they were the only two customers there.
Jim was touched by the cause, but because of issues with “cash and time,” as he puts it, was going to have to put off the project for several months. “I wasn’t going to say no,” he says, “but I couldn’t do it immediately. So I was looking for a soft landing, a way to explain the situation without disappointing the guy too much.”
Jim happened to be seated on the side of the booth facing the front door, and while he was formulating his thoughts, he says, “The door opened and in walked a young woman, all alone, with a severe facial disfigurement.”
Jim says the only term for this happening is divine intervention.
“And not the Shakespearean type,” he says. “This was real.”
He did not talk with the woman and has no idea who she was, but he made up his mind right then and there to get a truck painted and out on the road as soon as possible. He worked closely with the Children’s Craniofacial Association and George Dale, of Corning, New York, whose son, Jeremy, had undergone 19 facial surgeries by the time he was 9 years old.
Jim did all this without even meeting the Dales. But when he heard they would be traveling near the area a few years ago, drove the bright yellow truck himself to a rest stop along Interstate 81, so Jeremy could see it. Jim still gets choked up trying to describe that little boy’s reaction.
The second story I have to share has a similar feeling of God communicating with us.
When Brian Cashmere, a brilliant Pittston Area scholar-athlete, and his mom were killed in a crash while returning from a visit to Brown University in 2001, his friends didn’t know what to do. But several years later, as they began careers and began families, they did. They created the Brian Cashmere Memorial Scholarship Fund. To date, they have awarded eight scholarships of $8,000 to worthy PA graduates.
They raise money through two events, a golf tournament each summer and a cocktail party each Christmas. I attended the Christmas party for the first time last year and vowed never to miss it again.
The day before this year’s get-together, a box arrived at my door. It was the second shipment of a beer-of-the-month club gift my son got me for my birthday. Each month I receive 12 bottles of beer, three each of brands I never heard of. When I opened this latest one, I discovered three bottles of a beer called “Cashmere Hammer.”
I brought them to the party and gave them to the guys. “If you ever wonder if Brian is pleased with what you’ve done in his memory,” I said, “I think this is your answer.”
I also think it might be God’s way of saying, “Don’t worry about Brian and his mom. They’re in my care now.”
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.
Note: If you wish to donate to the Brian Cashmere Memorial Scholarship Fund, call the Luzerne Foundation at 570-714-1570. To learn more about Road Scholar’s awareness program and to view some of the trucks, visit roadscholar.com.