Wednesday, May 14, 2008

And the Walls Come Tumbling Down

Pin It When I moved to Utah four years ago, it took me about a year to really let my guard down. People I didn't know would wave to me as we drove through the neighborhood and I had no idea what to do in response. After all, I didn't KNOW them. How could I just wave? INSANITY.

In Vegas, you don't wave to strangers on the street. In Vegas, you don't make eye contact with store clerks. In Vegas, you go about your business, are polite but distant with strangers and neighbors, and interact primarily with your family and friends.

I'm not sure if you notice it if you've lived here your whole life. You can't really understand that it isn't like that everywhere, that it isn't normal not to acknowledge a neighbor in the front yard a few houses down, or to pretend like you can't hear your neighbors out in their yard on the other side of the six foot cinder block wall. When someone points it out to you, you may not even really understand what they mean, because it's something you've always taken for granted. It's a normal distance - an unfriendliness borne not of meanness but of culture.

There are people of course, who are friendly everywhere they go, no matter where they live, no matter how other people react. They are the people who surprise you by engaging you at the grocery store, at the post office, at the park. And you may enjoy the interaction, but a part of you is saying, "That was odd. She just jumped right in and started talking to me. Wasn't that odd?"

I had to go to the bank yesterday to talk to them about a Very Important check they'd slapped a two-day hold on. It was destined for Important Things, and I desperately needed them to release the funds.

At the bank, I talked to the teller, who looked bored as she told me that actually, it was a NINE day hold.

It took me a second to process that. "What? Nine - nine days, but that's - I can't - NINE?!"

She nodded, a tired expression on her face. I'm sure she dealt with this kind of thing all the time. I'm sure she was used to people freaking out about money, taking their financial stress out on her when there was nothing she could really do about it.

"Can I talk to your manager?" I asked her quietly.

She waved her manager over and I explained as politely as I could that I could wait two days, but not nine, that in nine days, Very Bad Things would happen, and please, was there anything she could do?

The manager didn't look at me as I spoke. She kept her eyes focused on the screen, tapping the keys as she reviewed our account status. I could tell I wasn't an actual person to her, just a transaction, an interruption in her workflow. She wasn't rude or impolite, but she was detached and curt. After a minute, she shook her head. "There's nothing we can do. Your account is too new, and its an out-of-state check. It'll be released on the 22nd." She tapped another key.

The 22nd. I couldn't help it, tears welled up in my eyes.

Even though we are mostly back on our feet, with good jobs and good income, we've had to pay for so many things lately - security deposits and attorney's fees and licenses, not to mention the occasional bag of groceries, and the money seems to fly out the door faster than we can earn it. But this check - THIS was supposed to be the one that gave us breathing room.

I felt overwhelmed, pushed past my capacity to deal with everything that had happened in the last year. I could handle the bankruptcy, I could handle losing our business, but this one little check was going to push me right over the edge and into a nervous breakdown, I could feel it.

She finally looked over at me, and was obviously startled at my expression and the tears in my eyes.

"Please, isn't there anything you can do?" I said with as much dignity as I could muster, given the way my nose was running.

She stared back at me for a second and her eyes softened. "Let me see." She walked over to another computer and started typing.

I waited nervously, watching as Abby and Carter charmed the loan officer into giving them suckers. The teller really looked at me now, and made sympathetic small talk.

A few minutes later, the manager returned. "I was able to release the funds - all of them." She smiled at me, a real, honest to goodness up-to-the-eyes warm smile, as though I was a friend and not just some random stranger, and I suddenly wanted to bake her cookies.

I tried to smile at her through my tears. "Thank you so much. Thank you. You have no idea - this really - I really appreciate this..." I showered grateful thanks on her, on the teller, on the loan officer.

"No problem," she said, and she shook my hand. She looked genuinely happy to have been able to help.

I took Abby's hand, took Carter's hand, and we walked out of the bank. I was smiling from ear to ear (groceries! gas! wheeeee!), and not just because of the money.

I know it wasn't a big thing. It wouldn't even qualify as a Hallmark moment. A bank manager helped me out, overrode policy - big whoop-de-doo. But the thing is - for a minute she really SAW me.

It meant something to me.

We forget to really LOOK at the people around us. We get so cynical. We learn too many hard lessons about people, and we shut out everyone but those who are closest to us. We save our mental and emotional energy for the people we love, and pretend that the other people we deal with (the checker we fail to acknowledge at the grocery store, the lady we cut off in traffic, the crossing guard we ignore) aren't really REAL people, they're just obstacles in our day.

I'm not saying we should talk to every stranger who crosses our path; but we can acknowledge them, can't we? Acknowledge that we see them, and acknowledge our shared humanity? Smile at someone? Nod politely as we pass each other?

Simple things. Baby steps. That's how it starts, right?

Because as it turns out - that whole Love Thy Neighbor thing? Has its merits.


  1. You made me cry.

    (I'm blaming my hormones, but it's your fault.)

  2. Oh man I have BEEN there! That whole "we're hanging on to your money until we find out your bra size AND until we're good and ready to give it up" thing just kills me. We had the same thing happen after we sold our house and we were literally dying to get our hands on the cash. I'm so glad it worked out!

  3. Sometimes the people whose blogs I read seam more human to me than the humans I see everyday.

  4. Awww shucks. I've been on both sides of the bank thing (having worked in a credit union) and I just thought it was terrible to not make each person that walked through the door feel happy by the time they were walking back out.

    People are people... and people have feelings - that's why loving your "neighbor" is so important, because one day you'll be the neighbor to someone else.

  5. Glad you got your money!

    We were in the process of switching banks. I deposited all, I'm talking all our money in the new bank. Little did we know the bank put an 8 day hold on our money. Yep, 8 days. and it was the 8 days before Christmas. Talk about tears! They released our funds on Chritsmas Eve. Talk about stressed to the max!

    Too bad the lady we talked to at the bank wasn't as nice as your bank lady. Maybe we need to move to Vegas!

  6. I don't think it's just a Vegas thing---it's a Michigan thing least where I live. No one smiles! I grew up smiling at everyone or saying hi and waving...and it wasn't in Happy Valley :). Since moving here I have been so surprised by the coldness of every day interaction. It's a rare occasion to get a smile and it's usually from a Senior Citizen. I'm glad you had some real, honest-to-goodness interaction. I think there's a social experiment to be conducted here...or did Patch Adams already figure it out?

  7. I recently moved to Utah and am CONSTANTLY shocked when people just wave at me when I'm in my front yard. I'm like... do I even know you?? It's very strange.

  8. I'm new to your blog Sue. I like it!
    I moved away from Utah because people weren't friendly enough. Now I live in Texas. Friendliness everywhere. I try to be sociable with everyone. I love chit chat.

  9. I loved what you said about them finally SEEING you. So often we just brush over people-- the waitress, the gas station man, the blockbuster girl... do we take the time to SEE them? I don't. I'm going to be better.

    Last year I bought chocolates and on Christmas Eve went around, with my kids, to all those places that the people have to work (gas station, video store, police station... etc) and gave them the chocolates. It was freakin' awesome!

    As always, another BRILLIANT post!

  10. Anonymous5:55 PM

    What a wonderful post! I too learned this lesson but mine came from my husband. He's the guy who will engage people at the store, always trying to make people laugh and smile - and people love him for it. He's explained to me his theory: if you can do even one small thing for someone, make them laugh per se, then you've made their day a bit better. I believe happiness is contagious and now, with the inspiration to make people light up as my husband does to others, I try to do the same thing. I realize how good it makes me feel and I want to do it more. Like you said, baby steps.

  11. A friend and I were talking about this very thing earlier today. It truly feels like the hearts of a lot of people have "waxed cold." But what a difference it makes when you run across someone who takes the time to recognize the person across the counter or fence as a person not just an annoyance.

    Thank you for the reminder!

  12. I think that is so true. I know I feel it when someone meets my glance & gives me a sincere smile or says hi. I know it's cliche, but I want to pass it on. And it makes me feel hopeful instead of thinking everyone sucks. It's funny to think that I might have that same "power" to make someone else's day a little brighter, too, just with small actions.
    Not to mention you get more flies with honey,right? I bet if you would have thrown a screaming tantrum, you would have walked out with nothing.

  13. My Grandpa would always read nametags and address clerks and such by their name. He always got the oddest, surprised looks. Then the ahah when they realized how knew their name. Then amazing service.
    I contend the reason we all spend so much time in this online world is we are all looking for that recognition. To have people validate us and call us by name and support us.
    But, I admit to be just as chicken as the next person to be the one who breaks the ice.
    Maybe tomorrow. You could have posted just the inspiration I need. Thank you.

  14. That's beautiful. Are you going to go back with some flowers for the bank official? My husband has the ability to make anyone and everyone talk to him. If Osama Bin Laden were in the same room, he'd be confessing to everything and telling Hubby where the WMDs are. Hubby doesn't ask people to tell him their life stories, but they do. I sometimes think it's annoying, but when I read your post, I saw it as a beautiful thing.

    P.S. I still say I know you from somewhere...maybe you were in my parents' ward and I met you in RS. Hmm.

  15. What a post this is - a manifesto, almost. I'm moving to a small town thirty minutes away from the medium-sized city where I now live, and in terms of this post it's like moving from Vegas to Utah, except I'm like the grew-up-in-Vegas person you described: I'm always startled and a bit taken aback by the friendliness.

  16. Anonymous6:35 PM

    Coming out of lurker status to say....
    What a wonderful post.
    I am from Texas. We wave and have random chit chat. Its very friendly here.
    I work for a call center and its so nice when people realize I'm a human being.

  17. Fantastic post. I feel like this a lot. It seems somehow wrong to me for people not to acknowledge each other. It's like we're denying each other's importance somehow. I'm always happy to catch a stranger's eye and get a smile.

  18. oh.
    So well written. So well stated.

    Softened my heart at the end of a rough day...thanks.

  19. Crying only works on my husbad, for other entities I have put in my mouthguard.

    I had a similar experience moving from SoCal to FL. In CA it can take you years to get to even "hello" status with your neighbors, in FL I had ten new best friends by the end of my first week there.

  20. Food for thought in this one. I'm thinking about this idea of letting down your guard and letting people in myself lately, and I think your observations are spot on. Great post.

  21. Gosh this was a brilliant post, Sue. Linking in my sidebar kind of brilliant because so, so many people need to read this.

    I grew up somewhere you don't make eye contact with people in case they decide to follow you home and beat you up. Now? Settled in a town where everyone waves and smiles, and chats you up in the grocery store line up. Culture shock. But this time, the good kind.

    So glad they really saw you. ~hugs~

  22. Anonymous7:29 PM

    Oh sweetheart. As a banker who has no choice but to follow policies sometimes, I say Good for her...I'm so glad she saw you and made it right.

    I hope you're getting settled back in and you know you're always in my heart.

  23. Does this mean you are going to start answering your phone! You know those are PEOPLE calling you too! ;0)

  24. Ummm yeah... I'm pretty sure that it helped that you had a real need, but didn't go postal on her. I used to work at a retail store that was managed by the owners. They had their policies where returns/exchanges were involved and rarely budged on them. The only exceptions I EVER saw them make were to the customers who were unfailingly polite and respectful. Nastiness and screaming got a customer quickly shown the door. So the nice went both ways, if ya ask me.

  25. So well written, Sue. Wouldn't it be great if we all were able to step out of ourselves and really look at each other? Thanks for the reminder.

  26. Anonymous8:01 PM

    Baking cookies for or sending flowers to that bank manager sounds like a great idea, Sue. Las Vegas needs more "real" people. That's one thing about this small town, everyone talks to you because they probably do know you, or your kid, or you know their kids, or they're related to you in some back-door way.

  27. Boy, am I glad for that happy ending.

    Aaack - I can't even think of something funny to say. Mosey over to my place tomorrow morning and read about the wacko endodontist receptionists. You probably would have handled them better than I did.

  28. I'm one of those friendly people -- although I also keep a certain amount of West Coast distance. I smile at everyone, I make chit-chat, I obsessively talk about the weather. But I'm very tuned in to when other people just want to be left alone. I get that.

    But really, that's not what this post is about. It's about the kindness of humans, and how we need to stop and see each other, and you've captured it beautifully. As always.

    (Did you see the WaPo article last year called "Pearls Before Breakfast"? It's AMAZING! Long but so worth it. It touches on some of this.)

  29. I've been there too many times. The sin of objectification I call it. We turn people, real live human beings into objects and try to move around them as quickly as we can. Then we blog about how we can change the things we do to help with global warming. I think you've got the right approach - Love Thy Neighbor. That's what we all need to do more of.

  30. I understand having money fly out the door. So glad things worked out for you. I need a kleenex now - sniff!

  31. I'm so glad it all worked out. I do think it's sad, though, that you have to actually make a (small) scene to actually get someone to see that you're a real person!!!

  32. When I was 9 we moved from Indiana to Alabama. My siblings and I thought it was hilarious that as you were driving along and flipped your pointer finger up to wave at an approaching car they would in turn do the same...HAHAHAHAHHA!!!

    We are a friendly bunch down here in Alabama but as a mail carrier I do find myself being that person (bank supervisor) sometimes. It's easy to get desensitized to other people's problems when all you want to do is get back to the office and clock out!

    Thank you for making me think more about it!

  33. I can't tell you how much I loved this post. I got teary eyed. I have been trying to SEE people lately myself. Maybe it's because I am getting older, but I have been trying to get past who the person may be and find out who the person really is. I have been hearing a lot about vanity and judgments and I have been horrible, so I am trying to change my ways. I love that this lady saw YOU and just knew you were genuine in your need. Thanks for sharing.

  34. Hey Sue!

    Your story today was touching. I too am the kind that talks to people in the grocery store. Perhaps your bank friends will talk to someone in the grocery store now too. I wonder if the Savior ever walked by anyone without looking, truly looking. I think not. We should take a lesson from the Master. I am glad these ladies did. It will make me truly look too. I love my crossing guard, my neighbors, my mailman, my UPS man, the grocery clerks. Last night when I was at Del Taco with all five boys, I wanted to ask the teenage young man sitting next to me if I could use his cell phone. I didn't, but perhaps I will next time because we all need to be seen.

    Oh, and where are you living now? Do you have a 3 or 4 year old? Would you like to do a preschool co-op with me. Let me know. Kim

  35. i totally know the shock of moving to this town. we came in from Texas...the friendliest place on vegas. It was depressing for a long time. But I've gotten over it (mostly) and, unless I feel like crap I really do try to smile at people I pass and make eye contact and talk to complete strangers. I totally think a smile and a wave goes a LONG way.

    p.s. didn't see you at church the other day, but I cought a glance of you (i think) at school today. :) Although, don't be shocked if you catch me with murder in my eyes while driving through the school...that place makes me irate.

    glad the bank worked out for you.

  36. I'd like to say that it's just Vegas, but it's so not! I think the soggy weather here makes us all head for our houses and not want to make eye contact.

    I'm SO glad you got what you needed - thank goodness for a kind heart and bent rules!

  37. I was a teller once or twice! I love being a teller and meeting all sorts of different was hard when the ball was out of your hands and you wanted to help them but couldn't...I also remember getting in a zone (usually when the sugar rush plummented), and I would be zombie teller for the remainder of the day...sorta like going on auto mode...I blame it on my bad eating call it not really say tomato I say to-mot-to... :)

    Good post...definitely a good reminder...but I'm usually the one that you walk away from saying, "that is weird, she just jumped in and started talking to me" lol

  38. I lived in AZ for a few years, my husband and I moved into a new construction neighbor so as our neighbors would move in I would take them a plate of cookies. Most ALL of them thought I was nuts. I grew up in UT and that is what people did. So after that I decide people could think I am nuts because I like to do those kind of things.

  39. What a great post! There is such a thing a customer service, who knew?

  40. You're such a great writer.
    That's all.

  41. I had tears in my eyes for you. It is such a wonderful thing :)

  42. Anonymous7:13 AM

    I just wanted to give you a hug and high five that manager. Isn't it awesome to be SEEN?!

  43. You made me get all pheclemsed! (No idea on the spelling there). But having lived in Vegas vs. Utah there is a difference in the friendly factor. I still loved Vegas though (and people look at me all crazy like when I tell them that).

    I'm glad you were seen and that it worked out. I'm a firm 'kill them with kindness' person to get stuff done- my husband is the opposite and doesn't realize that I accomplish more. ;)

  44. Sue, that was a BEAUTIFUL, heartwarming story. It needs to be in Signposts or some such magazine.

  45. Anonymous8:52 AM

    Beautiful. And you made tears come to my eyes. Have a great day. Margie

  46. In Oregon, everyone is freaky friendly. My friends who moved here from LA are creeped out by us (corporately, not personally!). I am glad the bank manager showed you her humanity... and dang it, you made me cry too!

  47. Anonymous9:00 AM

    I so needed to read this post. I'm really guilty of not "seeing" people and that needs to stop. Thanks for opening my eyes. Great post!

  48. That's totally a Hallmark moment. Your story gave me cold chills. And reaffirmed my faith in humanity. :-)

  49. Loved this post Sue.

    When we were deciding whether to buy our current home, we would occasionally drive through the neighborhood. People would always wave at us. We were so impressed. These people didn't know who we were or that we were considering whether or not to move into the neighborhood. Just friendly.
    We only moved a few miles from our old house. Friendliness levels can be different even within cities.

    So glad the Bank lady worked with you. She would probably appreciate a plate of cookies.
    Pay it forward. It could catch on.

  50. Customer Service?? Never heard of that before. Ever feel like we (the consumer) live in an alter universe where all of the customer service personel just live to torture us?

    I feel your pain, I do.

    P.S. I am that freaky, friendly waving person.:)

  51. Very touching! We could all use a little more kindness in our lives. It does make the world a better place!

  52. Anonymous11:03 AM

    It is funny how we can go through so much and then all of a sudden the littlest thing throws you right over the edge.

    It's good to hear that there are people out there who will bend the rules to help someone and do the right thing.

    I do have to admit that when I first moved to Utah it did creep me out that strangers would wave at me, but now I kind of like it.

  53. I may have commented once or twice, but I read you daily, I really enjoy your blog, you bring a smile to my face. This blog touched me. And if you want to be acknowledged, move to the South. I had no idea how unacknowledging we are in Utah, but compared to here, Utahns are downright mean. I'm still not used to talking to everyone, and I mean everyone, the grocery clerk, the bank teller, the people sitting next to me at McDonald's, the lovely D.Coke bringer at Sonic. And having lived in "the pit of despair" for many years, keep your chin up, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, just keep going and working at it. Thanks for being you, and bringing happiness to my days.

  54. wiping tears here... thanks a lot. LOL What a great story, adn what a great reminder. and what a GREAT OUTCOME!!

    Have a great day!

  55. Wonderful post, I'm so glad she was able to bypass whatever made them hold your money. And thank you for that reminder. :)

  56. WOW, you totally hit me in my spoft spot (not on my head either). I've been there, begging at the bank only I wans't so lucky. You make Vegas sound a little like CA, at least the city part of it (I'm an SF native). We're not so friendly and I've made an artform of avoidign eye contact. My husband on the other hand is a PA country boy and super kind and friendly and talks to everyone and knows all the neighbors and everyone who I don't know or make eye contact with. You're right though, it isn't out of meanness, it is cultural (not race cultural but where you live cultural - you know what I mean). Having been together for almost 6 years I have noticed that I have becoem a but friendlier and I try to acknowledge those who I know usually aren't, ie: the janitor, the window washer, the cafe kitchen helper. Not sure about you but I think that surroundsings (my husband) and age (although I am ageless) have softened me a bit. Thanks for the great post and lesson.
    And WOOHOO for getting the funds cleared. That is the best part. I'm glad the manager took a minute to SEE you so that she could help. :)
    come visit me so that I can have a little dose of Sue in my comments, you know, so that I don't get terribly sick and die ;)

  57. Hey, found you through Heidi- this has been a great read, you are witty and funny...I will definitely be coming back. I especially loved where you talked about the "presence" and it was your daughter- I have so had that happen to me. If they only knew how our hearts race when we're trying to keep it together. Have a fabulous day! :)Sara

  58. I think this is my favorite post of yours (although I love them all). It's so true. I grew up in Utah but I still came up like you, distant to strangers, even neighbors, etc. Always just wanted to go about my day as quickly and as inconspicuously as possible. Perhaps it's because I'm terrified of other people and what they might do to me. Anyhoo... I don't know how long ago it was but I decided to be as friendly as I could to others, especially those who were working in banks, restaurants, stores, etc. I guess it was during my stints in retail. It's just really horrible when people are cold and uncaring. So now I always try to look those people in the eye and make sure I say "Thank you" and mean it.

    I'm glad you got your money. I suppose the Lord decided you had had enough. :)

  59. Big tears. This post, wow. I have been feeling so very invisable this week it is hard to explain.

    I am very glad you were SCENE!!

  60. I found your blog via Kacy's.
    LOVE IT!! Your sense of humor is so like my own!

  61. Anonymous2:18 PM

    my husband was raised in the midwest... he has lived here ( southeast texas ) for almost 8 years and people still think he is a jerk... it's not his fault... he isn't a jerk... but that cold detached thing you were talking about... in the midwest, it's multiplied by hundreds! he really has the hardest time at work... he manages a lot of hard working, true texas blue collar folks and they really have a hard time understanding that his lack of apparent friendliness, chit chat, empathy, or smile are not because he's mean and snobbish, but just because of the way he was raised... he's better than he used to be, but old habits die hard... oh, and yeah, his family thinks i am a totally over friendly wack-a-doo... i say long live southern hospitality!!

  62. And here I thought this was supposed to be a funny made me well up with tears!

    I'm so glad it all worked out.

  63. You made me mushy. So good!

  64. you're so wonderful. i love your sense of humor and your blatant honesty. if you ever make it to tennessee, we'll totally grill out. hugs!!

  65. U dun it again, Sue! What a story ~ and a way of saying "see, this is what we have eyes and hearts for"!

    I've felt like this sooo much in the customer service arena lately - and have ranted on my blog accordingly - but it's something that every once in a while, someone is genuine and nice and helpful and it makes your day! It's the exception rather than the rule, but oh, what an exception!

  66. I'm most impressed at your guts. I would have welled up with tears and ran, not walked, out of the bank. then called my husband hardly able to speak because of the tears and made him deal with it. what.. nope, never happened to me before. you are definitely right about actually seeing people. it makes a huge difference, but it's so hard to do!

  67. That so needed to be said and you said it so well. We're all in this together and it's about time we started caring about it! You must have lived in a different part of Utah than me because I get ignored here as if I were in Vegas all too often. I will be scarred for life because when I moved here the first time, no freaking one would let me sit by them on the bus. No one. I guess because I wasn't dressed like a pioneer? And the driver yelled at ME because I wasn't sitting down but no one would let me sit. It was awful. In California even pot heads and gang bangers would move over and let me sit down.

  68. Ohmygod I have been there. I really do love that bank manager. And if you ever drive down the streets of Saint Louis, I'm the one waving at you.