I live in the suburbs, but I grew up in the woods. Literally. Our house was in the mountains, surrounded by trees, few neighbors, and miles from a stoplight, grocery store or gas station. The only other sign of life was hooting owls, and deer munching on the hydrangeas. So, coming to “the big city” after college was exciting! I’d be able to get to the movies within an hour, get groceries without driving 60 miles round trip, and meet cute boys that I wasn’t related to! (I lived in the Appalachians, ok?!) One of the things I did not anticipate when moving to the big city was the people.
City people are mean.
Get these city people behind the wheel of anything; shopping cart, car, bicycle, and you will get mowed down. Trust me, I have the shin bruises from the carts at Wal-Mart to prove it. I don’t know exactly what it is. I’m sure it has to do with being in close proximity with so many other people all the time, but it definitely comes across as an air of entitlement. Sometimes it feels like that guy in front of me at the bank intentionally let the door slam in my face, and lady, we both know I was at this stop sign first, so don’t bother cutting me off, again. I actually had a man hold the door for me the other day *gasp* when my hands were full. As I went by and thanked him he actually said, get this, “The days of gentlemen are over, I don’t do this anymore.” Damn.
After living in the city for 7 years, I’ve kind of become immune. As, a matter of fact, I’ve kind of become one of them. I dread going to the store. Inevitably the sourpuss cashier makes me feel like I’m a nuisance to her for buying my apples, and I am run off the road at least twice on my way to and from the store. But, just like everyone else it seems, I keep my head down, minimize the chit-chat, flip people the bird when necessary, and cuss under my breath frequently. That’s just the way it is.
But today, I had a blatant reminder that I am different than these city folk.
I was at the dreaded discount grocery store, where the isles are too small for two carts, but the bargains are too valuable to stay away. You go knowing you’re risking your life, but the navel oranges are 7/$1.50!!
Anyway, as usual, I’m swerving through the carts blocking all the major egresses, whose owners refuse to move, even though they see you’re stuck. “Excuse me” doesn’t work, because it’s so easy to ignore. So, I’ve mastered the “duck and dodge.” (My term for navigating a grocery store with a cart.) I see a checkout line with one customer, and she only has 2 things in her cart. HOLY CRAP! So I zip over there, in a fashion I’ve learned from the city folk, and take my rightful spot as the next in line. A fraction of a second later, a stooped, cute, but feeble appearing gentleman shows up behind me, looking a little lost. He has a bag of oranges and some pork chops in his cart. I have two weeks worth of food for human, dog and chicken. So, of course, I heave my burdensome cart out of line, and offer him my spot. He looks astonished. Cautiously, he approaches the register to be waited on by the sourpuss cashier. Once he made it in front of me, and saw I wasn’t going to knock him over, or steal his wallet, he thanked me profusely.
Just then, the store manager walks by and says “Thanks for doing that ma’am, that was very nice of you.” I felt my face flush. I don’t get embarassed, but I was embarassed. All I did was let the little guy in front of me. Isn’t that what everyone would have done? Apparently not. But I honestly didn’t think twice. It’s innate, I guess.
Then it’s my turn to be waited on by the sourpuss cashier that I’ve come to expect. No “hi”, “hello”, or “how are ya?” Just nothing. As she’s ringing things up, I start packing them in bags and loading my cart. The sooner I get out of this cart fortress of death, the better. When she’s done, she doesn’t give me the total (per usual), but she does say “Thanks for bagging that stuff, that was nice.” Then, like a cartoon, the manager appears out of nowhere and says “She’s just plain nice. She packs her own bags, and allowed that elderly gentleman in front of her in line. How nice.” My cheeks are flushed. I’m embarrassed. Don’t get me wrong, I am totally flattered by this ridiculous display of appreciation, but mostly I’m sad.
Am I an outlier? a rarity? an alien? Is common courtesy, like leaving an elderly person in front of you in line, or bagging your own groceries so far from the norm, that when it happens, it’s a big event? Is holding the door for another person really a thing of the past?? I’m so confused!
So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to lose the apathetic “city folk” attitude, and go back to my roots. This “hick from the sticks”, mountain woman is going to start smiling at people, and saying “hello” to strangers again. (And I won’t allow myself to get discouraged when silence is the only response.) I’m going to let the person behind me in front of me. I’m going to continue to hold the door for people, and thank those that hold it for me. And I’m going to try to stop cussing and flipping the bird while driving on the highway. Maybe I can re-start the trend of being kind to others. Maybe the sourpuss cashiers will even catch on!