Monday, August 22, 2011

I love DQ !

I wanted to make sure I posted something this week. I haven't been in the most positive mood since I continue on with the battle against the trying and lying chick. I don't want to bore people with stories of how I am writing a book during the down time at work. Or how the head guy was fired. I don't to annoy anyone with another post about how the husband and I wandered around, ended up in yet another town, went to a couple thrift stores and ate. (I did score 10 more 8 tracks!)

Although the husband, the father in-law and myself went to check someone's home for the good deed for the year upcoming wheelchair ramp project, it hasn't become a wonderful tale... yet. I won't disgust anyone with rants about how 2 of the cats must hate me because they peed on my stuff. I won;t go on and on about the past, current or upcoming bad weather. The husband's dead phone. The list could go on and on.

What I will leave you is a story that was uplifting and sweet...literally. I want to drive hundreds of miles to this store and buy a chocolate vanilla soft serve cone. Enjoy!

Good Will to All, With a Side of Soft-Serve

Published: Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Hamid Chaudhry, the owner, serving customers.

Correction Appended


This American summer, the heat is the least of it. A pummeled economy. A credit-rating embarrassment. More tarmac ceremonies for dead war heroes. Tornadoes, floods and other disasters, including Congress. Presidential aspirants stalking Iowa like Barbie and Ken zombies.

Clearly, the country needs to pull off the road and take a break. It needs to treat itself to a soft-serve cone, chocolate-dipped and melting so quickly as to demand a tongue’s sculpting attention, while tiny tree creatures sing their carpe diem serenade, and reassurance comes with a stray evening breeze.

A tasty-twirly-twisty place has to be around here somewhere. There always is.

There’s one. In the Kenhorst Plaza, just outside the small city of Reading, a Dairy Queen shares asphalt space with a Dollar Tree, a Sears hardware store, a Fashion Bug, a food market, a pawn shop and a few vacant storefronts. It is the neon beacon of comfort in a tired commercial tableau.

Inside, though, this Dairy Queen seems different from the 5,000 others lighting up the country’s summer nights. It has the standard freezer filled with Dilly Bars, and the black-and-white photographs evoking a past that includes the first Dairy Queen, in prison-centric Joliet, Ill., in 1940. But plaques and letters and children’s handwritten notes cover nearly every inch of available wall, all praising someone clearly without Pennsylvania Dutch roots; someone named Hamid.

The Cumru Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Mifflin Park Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Brecknock Elementary School thanks Hamid. The Governor Mifflin intermediate, middle and high schools thank Hamid. The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts, the soccer leagues and the baseball leagues, the Crime Alert program, the home for adults with mental retardation — they all thank Hamid.

And here comes the owner, Hamid Chaudhry, in the midst of another 80-hour workweek, fresh from curling another soft-serve. As he makes his way to a corner table, customers hunched over chicken-strip baskets and sundaes call out his name, and he calls back theirs.

“Hi, Tracey; I have that check for you.” “Bye, Mrs. Brady. All good for the homecoming?” “Bye, Mr. Rush. How was the Blizzard? Want another one?”

With such familiarity, you might think that Mr. Chaudhry, 40, grew up rooting for the Reading Phillies and taking late-night rides up to the iconic Pagoda on Mount Penn. But in words inflected by his Pakistani roots and slight speech impediment, he explains that he has lived in southeastern Pennsylvania only since the uncertain year of 2002, not long after Sept. 11.

Then, as a couple of local officials he knows catch up by the window, and a former state police officer he knows picks up a frozen cake, and a Mennonite family, regular customers, eat his soft-serve out on the patio, Hamid from the Dairy Queen tells his American story.

He was the youngest of six in a Muslim family in Karachi. His father, an accountant, was physically and mentally damaged after being hit by a car; his mother, a schoolteacher, took care of her husband and insisted that her baby go to America for a better life. That meant Chicago, where a brother was driving a cab while studying to become a college professor.

Mr. Chaudhry took several years to earn a college degree in finance, partly because of language difficulties, and partly because he was always working — mostly at the celebrated Drake Hotel. He was the unseen busboy, working his way up to assistant manager for room service and minibars, serving Caesar salad to President-elect Bill Clinton, delivering unsatisfactory apple pancakes to Jack Nicholson, tending to the dietary needs of a guest named Lassie. The Drake became an immersion course in Western pop culture.

He became an American citizen and started a career in financial-accounting software, eventually moving to New York, where he got fired. (“Wall Street wasn’t for me,” he says.) But he did meet a medical student named Sana Syed. Their first meeting was with her parents; the second was for a coffee at Starbucks; the third a brunch at a diner; and, finally, a dinner date at an Outback Steakhouse.

After they married in 2001, she landed a residency at the Reading Hospital and Medical Center. While his wife worked 90 hours a week, Mr. Chaudhry mustered the nerve to ask the owner of the local Dairy Queen, at Kenhorst Plaza, whether he wanted to sell. When he heard yes, Mr. Chaudhry scraped, mortgaged and borrowed to meet the asking price of $413,000.

He completed his classroom training at Dairy Queen’s headquarters in Minnesota, where he studied everything from labor management to the proper way to hand a customer a Blizzard. On June 27, 2003, he finally opened the doors to his Dairy Queen, but he was so jittery, intent on making every customer feel extra, extra special, that one employee quit on the spot. Oh, and the soft-serve machine malfunctioned.

Once he found his footing, Mr. Chaudhry decided to give back to the community, and held an elementary-school fund-raiser in which he provided the parent-teacher organization with 25 percent of the sales. Though the $450 seemed a generous amount, the publicity he received did not seem right to him.

“It felt like I got more in return than what I was giving,” he says.

Just like that, the Dairy Queen began to become the center of communal good, notwithstanding its contribution to the high obesity rate recorded among adults in Berks County. Mr. Chaudhry immersed himself in fund-raising, splitting everything 50-50 so that he only covered his costs. Good for promoting the business, yes, but also good for Hamid.

Fund-raisers for a father of four with cancer; for the Children’s Miracle Network; for soccer teams and Little League teams and the widow of a deputy sheriff recently killed in a shootout — he was a regular customer who liked Blizzards. Sponsorship of car washes and high school homecomings and blood drives four times a year. (Donate a pint of blood and get a $20 frozen cake.) Free parties held at every local elementary school, as well as at a Bible school run by the Mennonite church.

“My customers have made me well-to-do,” Mr. Chaudhry explains. “They patronize me, so why wouldn’t I give back?”

He gets up to hand a check to Tracey Naugle, the president of one of the local parent-teacher organizations who sits at a nearby table, enjoying a chocolate cone. Typical Hamid, she later says. She recently helped to organize a modest fund-raising event at Dairy Queen for a children’s swim team. “Hamid gave me a check for $1,000,” she says. “And I know we didn’t make $1,000 that night.”

Every community has its magnetizing place: a post office, a diner, a coffee shop. Here it is the Dairy Queen, Ms. Naugle says, mostly because of Mr. Chaudhry. He randomly shows up at schools with frozen treats for teachers. He once set up a petting zoo outside his store. He even bought his own dunk tank to use on the patio. He tries.

“He knows everybody and everybody knows Hamid,” Ms. Naugle says. “We’re so lucky to have him.”

The soft-serve has been a welcome balm, but it is time to toss those balled-up napkins and get back on the nerve-rattling road. Time to say goodbye to Mr. Chaudhry, who can tell you that younger people prefer Oreo Blizzards and older people prefer dipped cones, but he cannot say more about his motives than that he is lucky, thank God.

Just living in Pennsylvania, he says, with a wife, two children, a thriving business, and many friends. Hamid at the Dairy Queen is home.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: A previous version of this story misstated the year that Hamid Chaudhry was married. It was 2001, not 2002. It also misspelled the name of a customer in the store. It is Tracey Naugle, not Naugel.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I grew up thinking I was a bad friend. The thing is I was born shy and introverted. It wasn't that I didn't have friends to play with at recess. I was always playing tag on the equipment and circling the merry go round. It wasn't that I didn't spend most of elementary school with the same people. It was just that I didn't have the friendship I thought I should have. The best friend you do everything with and are also walking next to in school.

My mother gave me a complex when in like first or second grade when she told the teacher I had trouble making friends. This was not true. I played with other kids, I was just slow to initiate a friendship. So I accepted that statement of hers to be true and for years thought I was bad at friendships.

The thing was I was really out of luck with having a DV/secretive/no one allowed over kind of family. I was at a big disadvantage with that and being so shy. It took me half the year to speak in class and I knew the kids for years. I was so self conscious too. Anyway, ends up I had a good friend since kindergarten. Her name is Jodi.

Jodi was a cute kid... blond hair, big smile, would do anything for you. She lived down the road from me, too far to walk unfortunately. She was my first sleep over. She was probably my first friend's birthday party. She was probably the first to come over my house. She was my first best friend. We lost touch when I left that little town at age 12, but we reconnected a couple times over the years. She is still sweet and still loves horses. Now she has one. She was looking for me over the years as well and wondering whatever became of me.

So anyway, I went through elementary school thinking all this friend nonsense. Then in the 6th grade I made a new friend. She came from another state and everyone by then was sick of each other after 5 years of school. She was new, she was different and she wanted to be my friend. Yet during school she mainly played with the girls who didn't play tag all over the equipment and she usually sat with other people during lunch. I was the slow poke at the end of the lunch line. But on weekends I would go places with her and her mom. Places I had never been. My family didn't go out much. I was enthralled. I didn't question that she didn't hang with me at school, I was just excited to have a friend to do things with.

She moved away that summer. We stayed in touch by letter and occasionally the phone. I saved up my money and flew to visit her when I was 13. I'm still not sure how a kid got enough money for a plane ticket. I did this a couple, three years of me visiting her.

I still had friends in junior high and high school. They were mainly misfits like me, the strange banding together over that one similarity - we didn't fit anywhere else. I would go to birthday parties, to the mall, bowling, but it didn't feel like a complete fit. I spent more time alone than with others after a while.

I ended up going to live with this friend and her folks at age 16. It wasn't quite what I expected. I was a dark, depressed teen and everything did not fix itself when I changed addresses. The friend and I didn't spend as much time together. She had her friends and I made mine. Mine continued to be misfits. My one friend dropped out and took care of her siblings at home. She took classes at the community college for a GED, but rarely went. Another friend lived the next street over. A friendship of convenience since I could walk there with no car to drive. She was a story teller. Ah, that would be for another post.

After a few friendships ended I started thinking maybe it was in fact all me. I even went to a counselor about my issues. What I like about counseling is that they tend to say that I am a good person and it wasn't me. I know, kind of self-centered and self-serving for a person who is now a counselor. But in my own defense I was seeing Bachelors level counselors straight out of school at a community mental health center. They didn't know anything better then either. I was getting my whole $5.00 worth.

I ended up moving around, kept some friends and made some more. I ended up being friends with one I thought was my arch nemesis. Ended up the original best friend was the whacked out one. She tried to keep all her friends separate, especially me from the others. Ended up I had more in common with her friends than she did. She was a "some of the time friend" - tight with me depending on who my roommate was or boyfriend. It took years for me to realize that this went on. I was trying to explain to someone how we were friends. I couldn't explain the lapses in time with us not being around each other. The more I thought, the more I realized she wasn't a true friend. Of course by the time I realized this we were hanging out every week. She tended to spend more time with me the worse my life was. I guess she couldn't handle when I did well. She also started having issues with my friend, trying to make reasons not to like her, like being late to meet up once. At the same time she started dating after about a 10 year lapse. It was as if her mind turned to mush and once she had sex she was an evil demon woman. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but close.

Then when she was knee deep in an unreciprocated relationship something happened where I felt I was accused of bad mouthing the guy when I didn't. She apologized to another friend caught in it, but not me. This became the straw that broke my back. I called her on it and she denied that she treated me differently. I said a few little things to get her goat. She denied how she was being. I told her it was in her court and to let me know when she wanted to talk about it. I heard nothing. Other friends wanted me to work it out with her. I felt I was the one wronged and I had left it on her while she said nothing. There were a few awkward gatherings after that. She made a few glib comments. I worried I would loose the friends we had in common, as well as her mom who was more like a mom to me. I worried. I talked to friends. My worries came true when I realized that I was the extra wheel and everyone else involved had a million years of togetherness.

I hung out with new friends. I ended up finding the husband. I somehow doubt that now ex-friend would have liked him much (since he makes me happy). I ran into her and other friends a few times. She never said a word. The husband says she looks like a real bitch and obviously she wasn't a good friend.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


Right now I feel like a walking zombie.

The husband decided to go to the Skyway Pier in Tampa on Saturday night to try some late night fishing on the world's longest pier. His dad heard about the pier and wanted to check it out. The husband is all about making his dad's wishes come true. He is a huge part of his life and didn't think he would live past 70.

So even against my better judgement to not mess with my sleep schedule... you know, going to sleep between 10 pm and 12 am on the weekends, as opposed to staying awake all night and not getting much sleep. I told the husband that I would go to sleep when I got too tired. I lasted until 3 something in the morning fishing. I actually slept in the chair. I don't want to think about how few hours I slept.

Yet we had a good time. It was a long drive to the pier. There were plenty of people there when we arrived around 11 pm. We set up and started getting bites right away. I was the first to catch something. A small fish. We all caught small fish. The husband caught 2 baby sharks which we released back to the waters. I hooked a sting ray. The husband tried to reel it in but it snapped the line. It was huge. I caught some sort of puffer looking fish. My father inlaw caught all sorts of hings, but they were all small.

Finally at sunrise the husband decided to pack it up. We took the long ride home. I slept a little when we got home, but not for long. I better get to bed early tonight so not to be miserable tomorrow. I feel exhausted, I just don't want to sleep too much and not sleep tonight. It was fun, but my system is all out of whack.

What I realized is that fishing can be even more fun than I thought. I can even trash talk while fishing. The husband and I pick on each other and act competitive. I haven't had luck fishing before. Even though we left with no fish I caught some. I would like to keep trying and catch a keeper.

I also read the history about the current Skyway Bridge and the former bridge that is now the pier. A lot of death there. It was a creepy place at night. The waters were dark, the moon was half full. If I stayed awake any longer I would have hallucinated something in the waters.