19 July 2008

Emissions Lady

I recently did my stepmother a favor and took my father's car to get its emissions inspection.

(Odd. I just realized that not only do I still call it "my father's car," but I still think of it that way, even though he died in January 2001. But that, perhaps, is another blog.)

As I waited in that place which is either a long, thin building with windows or a hallway with a roof, I saw her.

She wore her blue overall uniform. Her gray hair was gathered back but with streamers flying. Her job is to finish off the inspection, take your cash or check in payment, check the gas cap seal, and send you on your way.

She has worked at this particular emissions inspection facility for years. I've seen her many times.

Standing there and watching her bustle about her business I realized that seeing her is one of the highlights about the yearly trip to the emissions inspection place. I realized that I had missed her when she was not there, that I had wondered about her and even worried a bit that she had lost the job or gotten sick.

My car's test done, she jumped in it, pulled it forward to just outside the building, looked around, and one-arm waved me out.

"Cash or check?" she automatically asked me.

Handing her my cash, I said, "Hey! It's nice to see you again! I've seen you here lots of times. You've worked here for a long time, haven't you?"

She hitched in mid-gesture and her craggy, snaggle-toothed face bloomed. She dropped several layers of formality.

"Hey, yeah. I've seen you here, too. I recognize you."

Suddenly, we were on the same wavelength.

She said, "I always like to go to places where people know me, you know? It's so much nicer when somebody can smile, like at the grocery store, where somebody's not going to raise a fuss when I point out that something is on sale or something."

I had to agree.

As she printed out my paperwork and sent me on my way, she said,"Hey, your car is doing good, there. I looked at the old numbers and it's looking good! See you next time!"

"Yeah. See you!"

Later, I was telling my stepmother about this encounter. As she told me about her own experiences with people she "knows" in the grocery store, the importance of such contact struck me deeply.

Don't we crave such experiences? Don't we want to exchange a few pleasant words with someone we have chatted with before, while they count out our change or scan our items?

Maybe it's just me. But there are places I visit repeatedly in my daily rounds and I do look forward to seeing particular clerks or serving people again and again. I look forward to the little chit-chat conversations about silly things, but silly things we two people share in particular. I look forward to them not only recognizing me as a person, but as a person that they know some little something about.

And I want these little relationships to be real.

There is so much fakery in our society, where a server is trained to say, for instance, "Hi, my name is Josh, and I'll be your server today." This is a corporate, fake attempt to imitate a real relationship between people, since that sort of thing is a rare commodity these days.

But a real relationship can't come from a single managerial-mandated introduction. It takes time and multiple visits and courage on the part of both service person and customer. Courage to not only be observant and recognize something about the person in front of you, but to eventually say something about it, make some little comment that opens up a real connection.

My encounter with the emissions lady just got me thinking about this, and thinking that it is really quite important and much deeper than it might seem at first.

Or maybe it's just me.

05 July 2008

TV Politics on the 4th

Not a big TV watcher am I. I might be if I had a decent TV with good reception.

Most TV I see down visiting Amy, as I was yesterday, on the 4th of July holiday.

And let me tell you. Barack Obama sure won the election at least as measured on Independence Day television coverage!

First, there was that ad, prefaced by a big view of Obama saying "I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message." Then blurbs about how he turned down big money jobs to go back Chicago and fight for the little man, how he worked his way through Harvard Law, etc, etc.

This was a winning ad, and it showed over and over. I saw it more than ten times in the time I was down at Amy's. It showed so many times that you could focus on different bits each time you saw it. "I saw this part before but look oh, he wants to reward employers who keep jobs in the States," etc. etc.

Saw it lots of times.

And there were maybe two or three other Obama ads sprinkled in during the evening as well.

I don't remember seeing one single John McCain ad.

Really, I don't think I saw one.

Ok, so Obama wins in the 4th of July ad race. Period. Hands down.

Then the news coverage.

Lots of shots, different ones, showing the Obama family celebrating the 4th in some small Montana town, watching a parade mostly. Butte. Images of small town America.

I saw this three or four times on local and national news programs.

And McCain??

Just a still picture of John up above the news person's head, while they tell us that John McCain is celebrating the 4th with family in the Phoenix area.

That was all. That was it.

That was all the McCain camp could manage for a 4th of July TV presence??

As I said, I am not a big TV watcher at all. But it astonished me how big the Obama presence was on the 4th, and how McCain came off as secluded off somewhere and not wanting to show his face.

I know how unfair this is and how it might not say anything of substance about the attributes of the actual candidates, etc, etc.

But we live in television times. This is not a secret anymore.

McCain and his camp really blew it on their Independence Day showing.

Hands down.