There was a moment, driving to San Antonio for dinner in the passenger seat of Phil Weinheimer’s sedan, when I realized how much I missed something I didn’t even know I’d lost. His voice. Although I hadn’t seen Phil in over thirty years, and more than forty have elapsed since we were in high school together, his words and intonation, his tales of brothers and sisters and classmates were instantly familiar. Phil and I were not great friends. We hung out in the same group; he was a jock; I was not. Our respective girlfriends were tight so sometimes we double dated. I don’t recall ever doing anything just the two of us. But things imprint upon us when we are young, they seep into our subconscious, only to become precious when reprieved later in life. Phil’s voice brought me uncanny comfort. It flowed over me like a rejuvenating fountain. I was so happy to be in his company once more.
Phil’s dad was a chemistry professor at the University of Oklahoma. Phil grew up in Norman and attended University High School, which I entered in my junior year. Shortly after graduation, I went east, Phil’s father took a position at the University of Houston, and although Phil graduated from OU, it’s been a long time since either of us were Okies.
Phil met Vicky in Salina Kansas in 1980, where he was selling commercial water treatment systems. The shy guy winked at her at the café where she waitressed. Eventually they spoke, fell in love, and got married. Vicky already had two children, now in their 30s. Phil’s a levelheaded guy with a positive disposition. Instant family agreed with him.
Vicky and Phil spent the next 25 years in Salina. Phil became involved in a parking lot cleaning company, which he eventually purchased. After ten years, business went slack. At age fifty, Phil needed a job. He went to work for Blue Beacon, the country’s largest truck washing company, willing to relocate to become a General Manager. Over the past nine years, Phil’s worked in five locations, they’ve moved seven times, but he’s still an Operations Manager: 2 p.m. to midnight, six days a week.
Truck washing is the sort of task I’ve never even thought about. Sixty to eighty guys wash semis at the truck stop off of I-10. Half of the crew is Hispanic, the other half African-American. Truckers wash their rigs often as once a week. A wash takes about 15 minutes: $65 for the basic, up to $100 with extras. The two bays that Phil oversees are busy 24/7.
Vicky’s a receptionist at the local Toyota dealer. Her stories illustrate her friendly demeanor and helpful streak. “People are in a lot of stress buying or repairing a car. The other day a woman was sitting in the corner of the waiting area, crying. I went up to her; I didn’t need to. Turns out her son was just air lifted to a hospital in Austin and she was stuck at auto repair. I listened. I gave her a hug.” In another story the crying flipped. “Two guys came in, each with Vietnam caps. You would have thought they were best friends, though they had never met. They talked about their experiences and gave each other hugs. I’m sure they’re friends to this day. I thought it was so beautiful, I just cried.”
Vicky and Phil celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary just before they left Salina. A decade later, they’ve had more tragedies than triumphs, but Phil focuses on the positive. “We had a good marriage then. But in the past ten years, with all the moves, and me being injured and Vicky being sick, we’ve grown so much closer.”
It’s difficult to meet new people in place after place. Vicky stays in touch with the folks they’ve met through Facebook but their most constant friend is Jesus, the third wheel of their tight-knit world. Every time Vicky and Phil arrive in a new town, Vicky searches for a welcoming place to worship. “If I wrote a book, that’s what I’d write about: how hard it is to find a church. In Kansas we went to a legalistic church. When we moved to the South I was excited about finding a welcoming church, but I never have. People are more concerned about you sitting in their pew than seeking Christ. One time, in Arkansas, I sat near the back. I knew I was in someone’s seat when the woman behind me yelled, “Where am I going to sit? How are they going to know I’m here?” She was so upset to be one row behind her usual place. Of course I moved.”
Phil was raised Catholic but left the church early in life. “In Catholicism you are called to have a relationship with the Church. In Christianity we’re called to have a relationship with Christ.” Despite Vicky’s wariness of churches with, “a man-based structure versus a God-based structure,” her commitment to a Christ-centered relationship is firm. “Everyone is searching for something and not happy with it unless they find it in Christ.”
The circumstances that have caused Vicky and Phil so much disruption and brought them closer together have also made them economically and politically independent. They are skeptical of broad approaches to our nation’s ills. Phil described Blue Beacon’s insurance before the Affordable Healthcare Act. “We provided something, but it was less than Obamacare requires. Now, the company can’t offer anything. Most of the guys take the penalty. It’s not helping anyone.” He sees it as just another government overstep. “The blue states want to delegate. They say ‘This is good for you, go do it,’ and then move on to something else. The problems of our country are going to take people working together and they are going to take time.”
We went to Papacito’s, one of their favorite restaurants, for dinner. There was a Friday night wait, so we milled in the crowd. At one point I glanced over at Phil, standing with his back to the wall, watching the scene, his arm wrapped around Vicky, who nestled into him, gazing in the same direction. Instantly, I recognized Phil in that exact same position, many years ago, embracing his high school girlfriend the exact same way. Something I hadn’t considered in over 40 years; something important and reassuring, etched deep within me.
How will we live tomorrow?
“I’m going to live tomorrow with God’s blessing and as much joy as I can give to others. If I didn’t pray to Christ I’d be a different creature. I will help somebody even if they treat me bad.” – Vicky