It was Thursday night, and a late night client call was put out on one of my photography forums for the following Tuesday. Within an hour I was being interviewed by a third party trying to book a last minute photographer for a friend in California whose parents would be having a surprise retirement party in just 3 days. It was a whirlwind planning experience, but in the end, I was hired and got to enter the lives of Coki and Gordon Patel. Their son, Manish, lives in California, his sister works for the White House, and his brother is a surgeon in New Orleans. After announcing that the Patel family business of 30 years was going to be closing, the friends and neighbors who had grown to love them all (and counted them as family themselves) would hear nothing of locking the door humbly for the last time and saying "good-bye." Although the children would not be able to attend, they wanted to make sure the event was well documented so they could experience the details from afar.
The small convenience store and sub/pizza shop is right across the street from the Richmond International Airport. I suggested to Manish that I should meet his parents at the shop and do photographs there before the party started at Roma's Italian Restaurant in Mechanicsville. He thought that would be great, and I met the Patels and 4 of their dearest friends (and customers) at the shop. The 6 of them popped a bottle of wine, made a toast, and made sure I got some great shots of the 3 men doing what they did best: serving coffee, drinking coffee, and snoozing at the counter. The charm and camaraderie of these 6 friends was just beautiful to see, it was obvious that these were not just 2 store owners and their clients.
At the party, story after story was told of the Patel's impact on their community. Many of the stories were about selflessly giving of themselves and many times sending people on their way with full bellies for less than $3. It was amazing to hear how many times Coki baked homemade treats for some of the children, and helping when a spouse had passed away, of too many kindnesses to pen in a blog. I was so thrilled to have met these lovely people. It reminded me of how in a world where there is so much hurt and sadness, acts of kindness can really make the world a better place, and how love will always win. Happy travels Coki and Gordon! May your kindnesses come back one-hundred fold!