Most people don’t suck.
I know this may be hard to believe on the days that we listen to too much news, hear about another atrocity, end up in a crowded space that feels just too “peopley” or get a face full of cranky. Those are the days when we get that overwhelming desire to retreat to our private quiet places of safety, pull our blankets over our heads and groan “I hate people”. Let’s face it, we got to be pro’s at dwelling far away from each other during the height of Covid, and that skill will never be lost.
But every now and then, when we emerge from those safe zones and bravely feel ready to interact in person – and not behind a screen – people can actually be…fairly awesome.
It should come as no surprise that I love stories. I especially love the stories of people. We all carry chapters that have made up who we are. Just like a suspenseful novel, the good, the bad, the scary, the inspiring, all of those bits and pieces make up our personal stories. And when I get the chance to get a glimpse of a few of those chapters, I’m enthralled.
I’ve done some traveling over the past couple of weeks. First for a family event and vacation, second for work. Both trips took me to Florida. Which allowed me access to lots of stories.
The variety of interactions is a true myriad of humanity. From travel personnel to restaurant workers to hotel staff to coworkers, customers, fellow travelers, drivers — the opportunities to have even the briefest connections are unending.
Sure, I get it, those initial interactions with strangers can feel kinda awkward. But there is one simple, surefire way I’ve learned over the years to help make that connection quickly and turn it into something good. Find something the other person is passionate about. During my work hours, that’s pretty easy – I work for a pet health products company, so as soon as I’ve shown an interest in whatever animal is in the other person’s life, the shoulders relax, the smiles come, and soon we are talking like old buddies. When I was going through security at the airport, a woman noticed the logo on my backpack and instantly started telling me about her horse rescue organization, and the draft horse they just rescued earlier that week. I could relate to her apparent level of exhaustion – but underlying that was an unmistakable passion. And I was awarded with a quick chance to “read” an intro into one of her life’s chapters.
In that same airport, the line at the Starbucks was far longer and slower than I wanted to stand in. I overheard two friends discussing an independent coffee shop just a few yards away so I stepped out of line, strolled over, found no line at all, and very friendly helpful baristas. I asked what kind of tea they had available and soon entered into a discussion about matcha. I admitted that I only like small amounts of matcha because too much to me tastes like dead grass. The barista told me that what she brews and makes into latte was a matcha green tea combo with added sugar (key ingredient), and while Starbuck’s match tea tastes like dead grass, theirs does not. She had me convinced to try it. Soon she handed me a latte that truly was delish. Sure, I didn’t get into any personal conversations, but clearly her passion at work is to steal Starbucks customers and make a great cup’a. In the process, we shared a couple of giggles.
Every conversation and person I interacted with over my travels was in one way or another fascinating and truly pleasant. When we all take a minute to realize we are in this crazy world together, just regular “real” people, doing the best we can to not only get by but find joy, it is possible to enjoy each other’s company. Imagine that.
In the Convention Center where I spent a couple of days for work, there were hardworking restroom attendants whose responsibilities were to keep the bathrooms clean and functioning throughout many hours of use. They were doing work that none of us would want to do. They, to many of us, are virtually invisible. But all it took was an extra few seconds to say hello, share something funny (like the humor of waving our hands to make the soap come out) and we get rewarded with a smile and a chuckle. A 10-second connection made.
Some interactions don’t have to be that brief, and like a great short story, can stick with us long after we’ve parted company. Such was the case with Ricky the Uber Driver. Ricky provided my ride to the airport from the hotel for me to catch my flight home. I enjoy talking with Uber drivers. They can be great resources of information about the area, and often have amusing stories to share. I usually start out asking if they have been a lifelong resident of where ever I am at the time, and if not, what brought them there.
In Ricky’s case, he previously worked in DC for a telecommunications company. He moved to FL with that company to pursue a management plan. But corporate management was not his passion. Music is. He found side gigs singing, and soon landed work with Disney in a Motown group. Then Universal heard him, and hired him as well. He left the office job and was a full-time musician, even doing a couple of years on a Cruise Ship. (Great if you are young, he explained, but it can turn into Groundhog Day.) Until Covid shut down that industry.
To make ends meet, he became an Uber driver, where he drove 40+ hours a week as an essential driver transporting medical personnel. I can only imagine the stories he heard and the exhausted people he met. Eventually he was able to pick back up with music and now has a band, performs out, and picks up gigs for conventions and special events as well. Yet he has not given up Uber, and won’t. It puts extra money in his pocket and he truly enjoys it. He can write his own hours, and he enjoys meeting a wide variety of people. In the 20 minutes we spent together, I got the Cliff Notes version of 20+ years of his life story. I heard about his passion. I flipped through the chapters, wanting more. I wanted to hear his music, I wanted to understand what the Covid essential driving was like. But that much detail was not meant to be. Instead I walked away glad to have met him, and ready for my next people, my next stories, my next chance to understand someone’s passions. We all have them, just like we all have chapters that have brought us to this point in life. And with a bit of kindness and hope, we can connect because of them.
By the way. Not once did Ricky say People Suck.