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.