When you travel with someone for a year or two, you pick up their habits. One of Todd's habits that I most admire, and am thankful to have picked, up is the practice of treating strangers like friends. When he goes to a restaurant and the waiter asks him how he is, he tells him what's going on in his life and returns the question in such a way that it obligates a genuine response. When we leave a restaurant, everyone we know gets a hug.
I get nostalgic, mostly for times I wasn't alive for. Like the middle ages. And, more relevantly, like the days before computers and cell phones, when neighbors actually recognized each other, and maybe even talked to each other. Shopkeepers were called shopkeepers, and they knew their customers by name. Their conversations extended beyond a scripted sales pitch for a rip-off extended warranty. I miss these times because I've seen them in movies and read about them in books, not because I've really experienced them.
Simple habits can be profound. One such habit that is more important than ever is to treat strangers like friends. Facebook, cell phones, and other "social" technologies have done to friendship what laminate flooring did for hardwood floors. It made things easier and more accessible, but did so at the cost of substance. In fact, this is happening in pretty much every area of life, something I've realized more fully now that I'm trying to find meat with substance; it's almost impossible. So I try to treat everyone as though they're a real person, just in case they actually are. Unfortunately I can't answer all my email anymore, but when I do I try to write to the person as if they're my friend, rather than use stock replies (which I could do, since a lot of the things people write about are similar). Once in a while I even fill someone in on secret future plans or send them a draft of something. When interacting with random people in everyday life, I make an effort to actually listen to them and to talk about things that they may not have talked about with every person they've interacted with that day.
There are benefits to doing this, by the way. I'm hesitant to bring this up because I think some people, especially those with a cursory but existent awareness of pickup, might assume that this is a ploy for self gain. And it sort of is -- it feels good to make other people feel good. If I got punched in the face every time I did it (or, really, even occasionally), I would probably stop. That's the main reason I do it. Treat someone like a real person and they feel good, treat you like a real person in return, and you feel good just like them.
Beyond that, I'm willing to go farther out of my way for a friend than I am for a stranger. So are other people. A few weeks ago a friend and I were driving to Fern Canyon in Northern California. It was late and our plan was to camp there in the RV overnight and hike in the morning. When we finally arrived, a park ranger pulled us over and told us that the camp sites were all full; we'd have to drive 20 miles back to the nearest town and find somewhere to stay. We didn't argue or storm off, but instead we chatted with him for a minute about the hike, what our plans were, and how psyched we were to be there.
"Tell you what... go back to the stop sign and take a right. There's a parking lot there that says no overnight parking, but I'll cut you a break and let you stay there tonight."
Without any sort of request or deception we got a perfect place to camp and didn't have to pay the thirty-five dollar fee. We treated him like a friend and in return he did us a favor like he would a friend. I have about a million other stories like this, too. In the Dominican Republic I chatted with a family in the airport and they ended up driving me to the city and inviting me to come to their beach house. When my RV broke down a waitress at Samovar invited me to stay at her place. My Japanese tutor is now my friend and is planning a trip to Japan with my friends and I. The shop my RV gets repaired at voluntarily lowers their rates and cuts hours off the job.
The formula to happiness isn't a simple one, but a component of it is certainly being treated like a human being and not a robot. Give that to other people and you'll receive it back.
A friend told me that I shouldn't talk about pickup in my blog because he thinks it makes me seem less credible. But, then again, he's into pickup and isn't proud of it like I am. What do you think?
Correction: my friend I mentioned in my last post says that she's NOT obsessed with Jamaica. I didn't mean for it to sound negative, if it did... she's been there a lot and knows a lot about it.
I've booked the first 12 days or so of my JetBlue trip. They should sponsor me so that I don't have to cram this all into one month.
EDIT 9/7/2011: The owner of Florida Auto Brokers has paid the amount owed in full. In return, I am removing his name and his salesman's last name.
Hey guys. I don't think this post will interest too many frequent readers, but I'm sharing it because I'm ranked very highly in search engines and I'd like to warn future prospective clients of Florida Auto Brokers so that they don't get scammed.
On July 7 of 2008 I saw an online auction by Florida Auto Brokers for a 1996 Rialta Motorhome. I was looking for an RV to bring back to Austin, so I sent them an e-mail. Nick, the salesman, replied.
After my meditation I snuggled-up under my duvet, still in meditative mode, still watching my breath - in and out. As I allowed my mind to wander again, a little bit, I noticed a reflection of the window pane on the ceiling, eerily looking like a face, with two squares for eyes and a big rectangular shape for a mouth. Strange, I thought, and tried to close my eyes to sleep. Thoughts came in and out. I had met a good old friend of mine, actually, exactly a week back. It was really wonderful to catch up with him after 11 long years. We were high school buddies who lost track of each other as soon as we moved away in our own directions. We met again, in London, and caught up with 11 years worth of stuff and also on some memories. He showed me an old class photograph of ours and we tried to name all our classmates (which we did). Oddly, though, we couldn't remember the name of a stodgy character in the middle of the front row, our class teacher!
Anyway, it was nice. That was a week back but I felt something lingering inside me, some thought, some odd feeling. I couldn't understand it. Was it a person? A memory? An incident? Or something we talked about? I couldn't get to grips with it. But as I was trying to drift away into sleep tonight, it came to me! It was indeed a person. A fellow student in our class photograph who is sadly not among us anymore. He passed away before we left school. I don't want to name him. He suffered from some kind of disease (I can't remember what it was exactly but something like a motor neuron disease) and he had to be on a wheel-chair all the time. We had become good friends. In fact I often helped him take his books out of his bag which hung around behind his wheel-chair. I always thought the wheel-chair was pretty cool! How awful a thought!!! It was gadgetry that caught my attention! Coming to think of him now, after all these years, what was really cool was his spirit. That is what this post is about.
This wheel-chaired friend of mine never complained. He was happy. He was content. He was competitive and he did his best. But we lost him way too early. I wondered what he would've been doing now if he was still around. But that class photo brought back something else for me, a feeling. I felt I am ungrateful, often. Here I was looking at the picture of an old friend who had a tough time compared to all his other friends. He couldn't do many of things we did. He couldn't go out play like us. Kick a ball around. Run. Walk. Dance. Jump. He couldn't even bunk lessons without being caught! He couldn't, but we could. We could do so much more but we never looked at it that way; at least I didn't. I'm sure he must have also felt a sense of loss, a sense of incapability, but he always looked fine and cheerful. In fact, most of us, the more capable ones, were the miserable ones. When I saw his picture again, he reminded me that I have so much to be really really happy about. So much to be grateful for. But I take all of it for granted, in search of the next fix.
My friend, I'm sure, struggled a lot. Life wouldn't have been easy for him but he kept at it. He went ahead and did the things he wanted to and could. Nothing else mattered. He just did it! And here I am, and most of us, not reflecting on what we have and not having the courage to just go ahead and be what we can be. We get stuck with what we have, good or bad. Who wants to change? Who really wants to improve? Who is really, really, the life-long learner among us? Most things are hum-drum. Routine stuff. This and that. Here and there. And life goes by. We have so much foundation on which to really build on, but we don't. We remain ungrateful and cowardly. I think making use of every thing we already have is also a way of showing gratitude, don't you think so? We should rightfully build on everything we have. We owe it to all the people and things in our lives. To squander away all those things we should be grateful for, is, ultimately, squandering away a life that could have been. My friend reminded me that tonight, almost as if by saying "dude! What exactly are YOU complaining about? You have so much. Build and grow and be happy for heaven's sake". He is right. I don't think of what I already have, at least not often enough. That is certainly one of the things I need to work on in the coming year. My friend also reminded me that there shouldn't be anything, really, holding me back either. He didn't worry about how he will be perceived in school. He didn't worry about norms and standards - someone else's standards! He had a benchmark of his own and he worked towards that. I too need that kind of courage. I think we all need to go that extra mile, set higher and higher standards for ourselves. Do you know why? BECAUSE WE CAN! That is what my friend has reminded me. He is certainly still around and I'm grateful for that.