We meet the most interesting people when we travel. Whether it's taxi cab wisdom from New York City to Victoria to Vegas or random people we are thrown into a room with, or seatmates on a plane, I just love the conversations and experiences we find ourselves in. Sometimes it's just those weird "coincidences" that leave me smiling, like the time I struck up a conversation with a woman on a flight to Anchorage, discovering that the newborn baby in her arms was named Elle as I was traveling home from visiting my new granddaughter in Texas--named Elle. We had to double check with each other and spell their names to make sure. To add to the fun, the woman's older daughter was named Sarah and my daughter, mom of Elle, is also named Sarah. We just shook our heads and laughed and proceeded to talk about babies.
At a Halifax restaurant, we chatted with a very nice couple from North Jersey and learned that the woman works for Conan O'Brien. We have an open invitation to contact her for tickets next time we go to NYC. Rich laughingly told her, "Don't make that offer unless you mean it, because Jane will definitely get in touch with you!" (They are in my address book!) On another plane, I sat with a couple who run a peace center in Assisi, Italy. I was so excited! "Oh, I am such a peacenik myself!" I exclaimed while they looked at me like I was a little off-kilter. :) (Yes, I have their contact information as well.) Wouldn't it be amazing to go on a retreat in Italy?! One day!
I admit it, I can be a talker on planes, under the right circumstances. I promise I am not one of those who can't get the message that you really would prefer to sleep or read or watch a movie or do anything except talk to me. I DO get it if you send out those signals! But if you are friendly and don't mind chatting, I am usually up for it. Such was the case out of Denver last summer, where our seatmate was a woman named Anne who had been to the Democratic Convention filming for a movie called "Papers." This is the story of undocumented teens who were born elsewhere but have been raised in the US. They don't remember any other place; they consider this country their home. However, when they turn 18, they suddenly become "illegal immigrants" who cannot go to college or get a job, sometimes cannot even get a driver's license. Imagine how scary and confusing this must be after living in the US your whole life, maybe not even being familiar with the country from which your parents came. It is reported that 65,000 undocumented students graduate from US high schools each year. "Papers" takes a look at some of these young people and the struggles that they face as they try to figure out where they fit into our society and what the future holds for them. Of course, immigration reform is a hot topic these days and it's a complicated one, but this is one way to put a human face on the issue and to realize that it is not so easily addressed by "rounding people up and deporting them." The film is not yet complete but check out the website at www.papersthemovie.com for more information. If you feel so inclined, you can make a donation to support the work of these filmmakers. We invited Anne to come to Unalaska for her next project. :)
Then there was a kid named Ryan who served us at the In-n-Out Burger in Fresno, California. I refer to this encounter as "Customer Service 101." He could have been in high school, maybe college, I'm not sure, but the point is that this was a young guy who could have written the book on customer service. He greeted us with a big smile, he offered his assistance, he joked with me when I couldn't figure out what to order, he genuinely seemed to like working with the public and interacting with people. He was efficient, but kind and friendly. Not only did he treat us this way, but I sat and watched him continue in the same manner with every single person in line after us. Whether the customer was rushing, harried, rude, tending to fussy children, teenagers with attitude, old folks who couldn't hear and took forever, he was smiling, friendly, helpful and encouraging. I swear, everyone left his line happy. Rich wanted to offer him a job on the spot! Honestly, I couldn't stop staring at him. As we left, I walked over to get his name and to tell him how much we admired his attitude on the job. He looked surprised, said "thanks" and then grinned that great grin again. When we got home, we wrote to In-n-Out Burger to let them know what a gem of an employee they have. I don't know if they have a fabulous training program or he's just a natural, but here's to Ryan....I think his future is very bright. We could all take a lesson from him.
Sometimes we go through our days with our heads down and our minds closed and our hearts hardened by all the negative experiences that have come our way. We think that no one understands what we have been through or that no one else has ever felt the way we feel. We look for confirmation that the world is a mean and unforgiving place. We don't take the time to say hello or to smile, to find out what we have in common, to give someone a little bit of encouragement, to make an invitation, to share an idea, to spread the word about something important, to go the extra mile at work. I gripe and complain as much as the next person, maybe more (ask Rich!) Then there are days when we connect in a way that helps us to realize that everything we say and do has an impact somewhere along the line. I see that as a comforting thing, but also a heavy responsibility. What do I want my impact to be? :)