If he walks fast, it takes Ernest Kimble 20 to 25 minutes to get to work at the Burger King in San Marcos.
His shift starts at 6 a.m., but he doesn’t use an alarm clock to wake up. After more than 30 years working at the same fast food chain, it’s a routine he’s used to.
He’s struggled with his vision over the years and needs cataract surgery; it's hard to read the orders on the screen. He wears a headset, so when customers make a request through the drive-thru, he can get their order without having to look at a computer.
Kimble, 53, says he has some regular customers at Burger King, but he’ll also see people who used to come in and they recognize him. “They say, ‘I remember you from 10 years ago.’ And I say, ‘At least I have something to do when I get up in the morning.'” After all these years, he still makes $8.75 an hour.
“It’s just a job,” he says, but he takes pride in showing up every day and doing a thorough job so that when it’s time to leave, he can head back to the motel he has called home for at least 10 years.
Before this motel, he lived at another one next door. Despite constant chemical treatments, his room is infested with roaches. Large brown ones and smaller, almost transparent ones crawl over the table in front of his TV and along the floor near his shoes. “It’s been this bad for a long time,” he says.
Kimble grew up in the Fifth Ward of Houston, where his parents tried to hide their addictions, and although he enjoyed playing sports, he struggled to find friends who were clean.
“I just wanted to get away from all the drugs,” he says. His parents, his friends, his neighbors. It seemed like everyone was using. “I didn’t want to be around it.”
In 1983, he decided to try to escape that environment by coming to Central Texas, where he enrolled in a jobs program and eventually started working at Burger King in San Marcos.
He made some friends, but when the drugs and alcohol started appearing again, he checked out. “I was a loner since then,” he says. “I thought I would just be by myself and stay out of trouble.”
For more than three decades he has dedicated himself to his job, and he has few friends. One of them is Kristina Delgado, a health specialist with Community Action Inc. of Central Texas, the agency that nominated him for Season for Caring. She saw him walking to work one day last year with tattered shoes, so she reached out to his manager.
Eventually, she and her co-workers started taking him to doctors' appointments and helping him get the medicine he needed for diabetes and high cholesterol.
Having been on his own since he was a teen, Kimble is fiercely independent, and it has been difficult for him to trust people. As they have gotten to know each other, however, Delgado and Kimble have become able to joke about his stubbornness to eat healthier or take his medication as prescribed.
“They’ve been wonderful. They came along when I really needed somebody. Basically, since I was 18, I have been having to fight and scrap for myself. I never really had nobody to help me the way they did.”
Make a donation to Season for Caring: community.statesman.com/donate or mail it in to Austin Community Foundation, c/o Statesman Season for Caring, 4315 Guadalupe St., Suite 300, Austin, TX, 78751. Make checks payable to "Statesman Season for Caring."
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