Published August 31. 2014 4:00AM
As a Man of Cola, I found the early morning solitude and supersonic fountain drink machine at the Colman Street Burger King made the restaurant a satisfactory place to relax, sip, and read before heading off to work.
If you're a "regular," though, you can't help but get to know the folks who work behind the counter. That explains how I gradually began to look forward to my daily conversations with BK general manager Brian Beeler - a smart, kind and happy dude with passionate and varied interests in music, books, film and television. Our tastes frequently overlapped, particularly with regards to Stephen King, The Who and, more recently, the "Longmire" television series based on the terrific series of novels by Craig Johnson.
In that spirit, I took perverse pleasure when one of Beeler's favorite artists - Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Stones, Kiss - would come out with a new massive boxed set.
"I hate myself for doing it, but I've gotta buy it," Beeler invariably lamented. "I know it'll be mostly the same stuff repackaged, but I've got to do it anyway!"
As someone who owns 408 Porcupine Tree albums, I totally sympathized.
I also got to know a lot of Beeler's BK crew and, though a fast food location by definition has a high labor turnover, it's impressive that so many longtime folks are still there. Over time, I realized this was largely because Beeler went way beyond the boss/worker dynamic. Several employees have stories of how Beeler was generous with second chances, made special transportation or shift arrangements - or just offered support and encouragement.
For these reasons and more, Beeler was a special person - and it's going to take a while to grasp that, after a short illness, he passed away last week.
He was 45 and leaves a wife and a daughter - both Lillian - whom he spoke of frequently, adoringly, and with great pride.
Oh, and dogs! Beeler loved dogs, and his own Audra is an animal of greatness. On weekends, when we still had our hound Gumbo and he'd ride to the King with me, Beeler invariably slipped me a few to-go tater tots because he knew I could be trusted to share in a four-pawed context.
On Sunday, I commented to my bride that, on reflection, in recent years, Beeler and I talked more, about a rich array of subjects, than I have with my oldest friends. Part of that is distance, of course - I'm 2,000 miles from the people I grew up with - but another aspect is simply that Beeler was an easy and interesting guy to know.
As ours was a relationship built on the confluence of day-to-day circumstance and mundane ritual, I'm not sure I thought of it as "friendship." Now that he's gone, I realize that's exactly what it was.