One evening last winter while I was sipping a vodka martini at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, a friend asked me what single quality I thought all benefit auctioneers should possess. Her question caught me off guard. Moments before we were discussing our mutual obsession with K-pop, and her question felt out of left field. I sat at the table, overlooking the glittering cityscape, and pondered the question.
I wanted to be thoughtful in my response; however, I was in Los Angeles on vacation, getting ready for a hectic spring schedule. This was my time to recharge my spirit, and work was the last thing on my mind.
“A kind heart,” I said.
We clinked glasses and moved on in the conversation.
The next morning as I hiked through Runyon Canyon, I ruminated over my friend’s question. My half-baked response felt disingenuous. Could I boil down my profession into a single characteristic?
I thought back to a Saturday morning in Miami, my hometown, back in 1989. I was five years old and my abuelo had begun working at a furniture store called El Dorado. He wanted to show me the office. His new job was a big deal because he had hopped around from job to job since coming to America. He was now a Human Resources manager, and the entire family was proud.
In Cuba, Abuelo owned a restaurant called La Terraza, which was frequented by local politicians and artists.
. It overlooked the Atlantic Ocean and celebrities like Ernest Hemingway would rent out the apartment above La Terraza because of its breathtaking landscape. When the Cuban Revolution began, Abuelo had to flee the country with his family and was left with nothing.
As Abuelo and I drove down Calle Ocho, about to get on the Florida Turnpike, he suddenly pulled over.
“I want to bring a surprise to the office,” he told me. “We have to perk up people’s day. They’re working on a Saturday.”
Abuelo bought two boxes of Krispy Kreme doughnuts from a man selling them off the side of the road. He handed the seller, an elderly man who was weather-beaten and fanning himself with a newspaper, a twenty-dollar bill then walked away without saying a word.
“Excuse me,” the elderly man shouted, “you gave me too much money, let me hand you your change.”
Abuelo smiled. “Quédese con el cambio, amigo.” Or, “keep the change, friend.”
When we arrived at El Dorado, Abuelo personally gave out the doughnuts to everyone: the receptionist, his colleagues, the delivery men, and the custodians. He looked everyone straight in the eye and said, “que dios te bendiga.” Or, “may God bless you.”
As for the tour itself, I don’t recall the specifics of his office. What I remember is my abuelo knowing everything about the company and making it his business to hand doughnuts out to everyone we crossed paths with.
“I’m in human resources,” he told me. “Paul, it’s important I go around and know everyone’s name. People depend on me to help them when a crisis comes up.”
At the end of the day, we found ourselves with extra doughnuts. Abuelo asked me what we should do with them.
“We can throw them out,” I said.
Abuelo shook his head. “We can never waste food. Not when there are others in need.”
We walked around downtown Miami at dusk. The neon glow of bars and restaurants bathed us as we traveled from street after street looking for someone to give our leftovers to. We found an elderly woman on a corner with a shopping cart and no shoes.
“Que dios te bendiga,” Abuelo said, handing her the extra doughnuts.
“Thank you,” she exclaimed in Spanish. “Everyone overlooks me. They pass by me as if I’m invisible. You made me feel like the world still cares.”
It occurred to me as I hiked Runyon Canyon in Los Angeles, reflecting about that day with Abuelo, that there is no single characteristic that embodies a good benefit auctioneer. The act of auctioneering, like the auctioneer, is dynamic and complex. No one size fits all.
What matters is that there are kind-hearted individuals that acknowledge the importance of being empathetic and thoughtful as well as sharing their blessings with others. My abuelo lost everything coming to America. He could’ve been shrewd and angry, but instead he chose to celebrate others and to give back to the community. This is the spirit of being a benefit auctioneer.
I sent my friend a text with a photo of my abuelo once I was done with my hike.
“Who is that,” she asked.
“My abuelo,” I told her.
Before I could write back some more, she replied. “Now he looks like a guy who could’ve been an auctioneer.”
“Oh yes,” I replied. “He had a kind heart. That’s where I got it from.”