In the New York Times:
"Excuse me? Pardon me?
I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to interrupt your text messaging, which is probably what brought that look of scorn to your face, but I was wondering if you could help me.
That’s funny. Maybe I’m imagining this, but each time I open my mouth to ask a question about the clothes you’re selling, your nose scrunches, your eyes roll, and your head darts down to where the register is. I can’t imagine what’s so pressing.
I’m the only customer in here. Is there an urgent cash crisis? A dangerous cashmere spill?
Oh, of course! It’s me, isn’t it? I’m not exactly amusing you with these little queries of mine. My bad. I know my Gap jeans and old sweater are hardly from the mind of Karl Lagerfeld, but that’s why I came in here today. To trade money for goods and services. The way it works is: I ask questions about various products — in this case, the clothes beautifully displayed around us — and you, in your role as service person, answer them, perhaps even leaving your spot behind the desk to physically touch the clothes and aid in my investigation and ultimate purchase of them.
We can even have fun doing it. You can talk to me, ask me questions, too, even joke casually about things we might have in common (I totally agree about Lady Gaga!). You can use those powers of human interaction to assist me in a purchase, maybe even one that’s larger than I had originally intended.
Wouldn’t that be cool? I’ll end up feeling validated, happy that I spent $200 on a pair of jeans I didn’t need, because you made me feel like a million bucks when I came out of the changing room.
Perhaps a friendship will blossom out of it. O.K., friendship is a leap. A camaraderie? Can camaraderie blossom? Like the type that allows me to say, “Thanks so much for your help, man,” or even address you by your first name. That’d be nice. Wouldn’t it be nice, Mark?
I can see this isn’t really your thing. You’ve told me to “feel free to look around.” Maybe you were just trying to put me at ease — a little “my store is your store” attitude. And I understand. A lot of people don’t want your help. They want to browse at their discretion, unencumbered by salespeople.
I am not one of them. I need guidance. Think of me as soft clay, ready to be molded in your image. What do you think, Mark, brown belt or black?
Oh dear. There are those eyes again, barrel-rolling in their sockets like a pair of F-16s at an air show.
But you’re coming out from behind your perch? How exciting! Wow, those are some serious tattoos.
And what boots — I can’t believe you tuck your jeans right into them! I totally underestimated your coolness, Mark. Do you have this jacket in a medium?
Oh, you’re going outside for a cigarette. My God, I didn’t even realize I was interrupting your private time. I’ll just slink out of here quietly. So sorry to have troubled you."
I grew up in southern California and watched it grow to overflowing, with people and houses and freeways and vehicles. And smog and irate drivers and crime. I know there is still lots to beckon people to southern California besides the weather. But in my early twenties I left California for quite a few years and lived in five other states before returning to find it changed even more. For twenty more years I lived in San Diego, worked there, met friends there.
A year and a half ago hubby and I packed a big truck and pulled one car and with adventure in our hearts, moved to Nebraska. One of the first things we noticed was how different the people in Nebraska are. They are NICE, FRIENDLY, POLITE, HELPFUL. As we were unpacking the truck and getting settled, we made several trips to stores for necessary items, and it was actually a shock when people approached us and asked if we were finding everything we were looking for, and when we walked toward a checkout counter we were directed to one that would ring us up immediately. All with a smile on their faces and looking directly into our eyes.
I may be exaggerating a teensy bit, but for the most part we have been welcomed to our new home area by neighbors and shop owners and restaurant staff in a way that seals the deal. We are staying here. We are home. The people make the difference.