How You Doin'?!
I spent the week in Ohio for work. Early on in the week, while on a call with my boss and her boss, her boss inquired, "How's Ohio?" And I said, "Oh, you know, weird. People say 'hello' to you and smile." He laughed and completely understood the sentiment having spent 20 years of his life here. When you enter a place of business, instead of greeting you with a rote, "Hello! How are you?" Shopkeepers here inquire, "How has your day been so far?" And they hold your gaze steadily as they await your reply. It's somewhat disarming. At the very least, I pause to reflect, "How has my day been so far?" Before responding with my usual guarded east coast reply of, "Good! How 'bout yours?" Wednesday evening, the rain came down in steady sheets so it seemed the perfect evening to venture out to an independent bookstore that's housed in what was once an old church. This particular bookstore sells books at a discount so I bought 3 for $11.98. The shopkeeper was an older man, skin of paper that's been crumpled up many times and then smoothed. The creases still present, soft, thin, almost translucent. He made small talk as he mindfully rang up my purchase and held my gaze with his watery gaze, his eyes of cornflower blue. It felt like a scene from a book and if it were that, I'm fairly certain we would have had a freaky Friday style swap or, hopefully something less cliche than that yet still intriguing. While on business, I met a local professional, an attorney who looked very much unlike what you might envision when I say attorney. A colleague of mine observed this as well and remarked on her "Cyndi Lauper style hair". Cyndi would approve of this person's manner of dress. Today, we saw this woman a second time, and she was wearing grey wedge shoes, black and white patterned pants, a floral print top and a denim, suit style jacket. I engaged her in conversation prior to our meeting and she was surprised to come to the realization that I was not an employee of our Ohio office but instead was from the Massachusetts office. She looked puzzled so I added, "Well, I'm originally from Illinois." She replied, "Ah. I was going to say you don't give off a Boston vibe." I laughed and agreed but refrained from adding how I often daydream of moving to the left coast. This woman went on to remark of the pace of the south, which is shifted several gears down. I can agree with this. Andrea and I once visited the outer banks of North Carolina and a woman drawled to the shopkeeper, "I've got a dermatology appointment." The professional noted, "I think that what you lose in speed, you gain in meaningful connections." She went on to describe how so many who live in New Orleans have constructed informal and yet meaningful relationships over time and how many of those were washed away by Hurricane Katrina leaving customers to wonder and worry whatever happened to the storekeeper or the person who made their coffee. Yesterday morning I purchased my coffee at a local, independently owned shop adjacent to the office. I was greeted warmly and then an man entered and the two working behind the counter greeted him with delight asking, "Where have you been?! We haven't seen you!" He replied that he'd been away on business a week and they said, "We're glad you're back! We were worried about you!" Tonight, as we boarded the plane, the flight attendant twice mentioned, "We don't have wifi tonight. Talk to one another."
I've been reflecting on all of this as it's in stark contrast from how the week got underway at the airport in Boston. I tuck these small civilities away & watch with cautious optimism as people band together to raise one another up after being clobbered by a hurricane, other natural disaster, or a terrorist attack.
"How you doin'?" Joey Tribbiani, Friends