When I grow up, I want to be like Calvin Morris. If you’ve ever passed the Publix shopping center on Green Springs during weekday lunch hours, Calvin is the guy dancing on the sidewalk with the Firehouse Subs sign. In my entire life, I have never seen anyone bring more joy to his work.
Calvin came to Firehouse a few months after it opened in 2006, through a stroke of luck. At least for Firehouse. He was working for neighborhood-rival Quizno’s, and Quizno’s went out of business.
“We had hired a kid to hold our sign—and he was fine, I suppose,” said store owner David Conklin. “But the minute we saw Calvin, we said to ourselves: ‘We need that guy.’ So when Calvin’s handler showed-up at our door and asked if we were interested in hiring him, we said, “Are you kidding? Sure we are!”
Calvin’s “handler” is Karima Cameron, an Independent Living Coach with The Arc Of Jefferson County. Now in his late 20s, Calvin’s been Karima’s client for seven years. His aunt, Catherine Johnson, enrolled him in the ARC program when her sister, Calvin’s mother, died after a long illness. Calvin, who has no brothers or sisters, had been her primary caregiver.
“You’re here to see Calvin?” asks Vanessa Skrip—who joined Firehouse seven months ago. She’s overheard me telling a friend why I’m there. “He’s awesome! He always says, ‘I’m not holding a sign. I’m having a party.’ Sometimes when I work on weekends, people will drop by the store just to ask where he is.”
There’s no mistaking when Calvin’s shift is over. He brings the party into the store with him. He takes a seat at his regular table by the door—where he greets and thanks every customer walking in or out. It’s the first time he’s sat down in hours, but you could hardly describe it as sitting still. It’s been another great day on the job.
Ordering lunch is something of a ritual for Calvin and his co-workers. Vanessa explains: “He loves everything on the menu, so we kinda take turns making suggestions.” Today he decides on an Italian.
While Calvin eats and greets, I spend a few minutes at the next table with David. Given Calvin’s constant patter with customers and co-workers, you’d think he was tuned-out of our conversation. You’d be wrong. “Nothing gets past Calvin,” says David.
I have to ask: Is he always this happy? “Actually, the only time he’s not happy is when he can’t work—because it’s either too cold, or rainy. Every now and then, when he’s outside on a hot summer day, someone will call the store to complain about us ‘allowing’ him to be out there. My response is always the same: ‘Tell you what, why don’t you come tell Calvin he can’t work?’”
“Honestly,” says Karima, “he’d work seven days a week if he could. No, I take that back: Calvin loves to go to church.” His “awntie”, whom he also calls Mama, takes Calvin with her on Sundays. He’s an honorary Deacon at Shady Grove Baptist—where he serves as a greeter, and assists with collection and communion.
Twice a week, and at least two Saturdays a month, Karima takes Calvin on some kind of outing; the dollar theater, a haircut, shopping. Recently, she took him to Kmart—where he bought a new pair of tennis shoes, and a pair of church shoes. He also mentions another purchase: “I bought Mama a new watch, and a Mother’s Day card, to show her how I love her the most.”
Karima tells me Calvin spends the rest of his spare time at home in his apartment. She knows what I’m thinking. That’s a lot of time. “We’ve offered Calvin roommates before, but he likes being on his own. He loves watching old westerns on his DVD player, and he’s in bed every night by 7:00.”
It’s just before 2:00 when the ARC bus pulls-up outside the door. Calvin pops out of his seat, and announces, “Good-bye everybody! I’m going home now, but I’ll be back tomorrow.” Is it any wonder this place has so many repeat customers?
(Originally published in the June, 2012 issue of B-Metro Magazine)