When it comes to interacting with strangers, I consider myself a guy of slightly higher than average niceness. Having grown up in the Midwest and South might have made me a tad nicer than your average Northeasterner– but who knows? After living for the past decade in the Northeast, I’m sure I’ve acclimated to the local mean [get it? “mean,” “average” ha, I kill me]. I noticed that I had changed when we lived in Ann Arbor, MI during 2009. Bartenders and waiters were eerily chatty, and it seemed, I dunno, invasive. Even toll-booth operators were oddly sweet during our 2-second interactions. I didn’t like that. Here in the Northeast, toll booth operators are the most miserable lot of them all– I have come to know that as normal and like it that way.
Lately, here in northern NJ, I’ve had the good fortune to be on the receiving end of some remarkable kindness from strangers. Let me tell you about ’em:
1) About 3 months ago we were hosting friends from Boston for the weekend. These friends, like us, have particular palates, so I was aiming to please (hey, ya need an angle to keep friends coming back, right?). I went to a near-by liquor store to buy some tequila, beer, and a bottle of Bordeaux for the three of us to enjoy (Natalia hadn’t been born yet, so no booze for Cati). I noticed the store was a little dark when I walked in. The shop owner told me the electricity on the entire block was out. Therefore they could not make any credit card transactions. “Oh, great,” I thought. I went to the ATM across the street, but it was dead too. I went back to the store to get in my car and drive away like a dejected failure. The guy who was in line behind me was waiting near the store entrance and he asked me, “How much do you need?”
“Well, the total at the register was $85, but I could’nt possibly…”.
He stopped me and pulled out a wad of cash and said, “Here, take it and stop by my place of business to pay me back some time this week.”
I declined his offer, but he insisted and said he felt compelled, as a Christian, to help me out. I, of course, passed on the opportunity to point out that God probably wouldn’t approve of all the drunken heresy the booze was to fuel. Instead I said, “Well, I live about a mile away, so just follow me home and I’ll run in and get you the cash.” He agreed. We had to take a circuitous route home from all the downed trees from recent windstorms (hence the power being spotty around town). As I was driving, I thought, “This is crazy, a stranger is offering me cash at a liquor store to buy booze. I would NEVER do that.” We arrived at the house and I gave him the cash. He insisted on taking no more than I borrowed, even though I offered.
2) I was driving the bimmer (1988 M6) back home from the NJ motor vehicle inspection facility and it stalled at a light on Route 10 (talk about brilliant timing). It wouldn’t restart. Where I broke down, Route 10, is six lanes wide with a median– six fast lanes and an ashpalt median demarcated only by paint. Horns started blaring as the light changed to green and I wasn’t moving. I put on my hazards and started waving people around my car. Well, the guy behind me in his big truck waited there with his hazards on to protect my stalled car from being rear-ended; he had room to go around but instead he was putting his car at risk to cover me. Granted, it was a more visible pick-up truck than my two-door coupe, but still. I might have just driven around. So when the light became red again, some guys in another pick-up from the lane to my left offered to use their truck to block traffic in that lane and help push my car to the median. All these strangers were super-helpful and concerned about my safety.
After I made it to the median, I fiddled under the hood a little, while I was on the phone with Cati. I was able to get the car started after a few minutes. Even though I was in the median, it was still pretty unsettling with all the cars zinging by so fast– I was glad to get out of that situation.
3) We keep the BMW at a public storage unit about 1 mile from the house. Cati was home getting the babies ready for bed, so I parked the car at the storage facility and started walking home. The gentleman who works there saw me walking and asked me if I wanted a lift. I was only going a mile so I really didn’t need it, but what the hey. He didn’t know me from Adam. He delivered me to the house and I thought, “Man, what luck. These people are nice.”
I don’t want to use these acts of kindness to make an ugly point; nonetheless I couldn’t help but wonder if the interactions I describe above would have played out differently if I looked like I was of a different ethnicity or apparently lower SES. I don’t mean to imply that I benefited from racism (or at least not racism alone), because I doubt anyone would be so nice if I looked like a homeless-guy or had the word “INSANE” tattooed on my pierced forehead. Well, I ain’t one to pass up a good thing, and I certainly hope it continues (for us all). Oh, but it’s not all upside, I still get treated rudely from time to time. The cashiers at Whole Foods seem to hate me.
For those of you who prefer food-themed blog posts. Check out this great one from Serious Eats. This is the kind of post to which I aspire. It’s entertaining, rigorous, and articulate.
Also, we bought Nina a little play kitchen to subliminally train her to take over the cooking responsibilities in the house. She loves it.
Come to think of it, I need to get her a play lawn-mower too.
Also, here’s a song from everyone’s favorite Russian-speaking gypsy punk-rockers from Ukraine– Gogol Bordello:
Anyone else want to get hopped up on vodka and pickled herring and play chess? No? I do (especially after that little violin solo at ~1:45).