Much to the chagrin of my family I love talking to random people or maybe a better way of phrasing it is, I love asking random people questions. Bag boys, tellers, waiters and waitress, if they have a pulse and a thread of personality I will talk to them.
I have been in sales all my life so I have learned to ask open, probing questions. I like to listen, I am the only male in a house full of women so I have spent a lot of time listening. I enjoy hearing people’s stories, stories about their past, their present and their future. What I have learned in thirty years of business is that most, “most” people like talking about themselves, some don’t, but the vast majority of people do. It is the subject they know the most about. The one topic that they are the expert on.
Waitresses are a favorite target of mine, and a cute waitress is my first favorite, I mean come on why not enjoy the view. People who work as waiters and waitresses are usually extroverts. They enjoy talking and being around people because honestly that is 95% of their job. I tip, typically, on the service not the food. I have been to restaurants where the food sucked but I fell in love with the waitress. She can’t help that the food wasn’t good. All she can control is her attitude towards me. If she has a good attitude, is pleasant and helpful she will get a big tip from me despite the food.
My wife and I had to drop a kid off at an airport about two hours away from our house last night. Heading home, I suggested we find some place to eat that wasn’t a Subway or a Wendy’s, something local in one of these small towns were passing on the interstate. Now my lovely wife is technology challenged. When she asked “Do you really want to eat this early” she didn’t realize I was padding the time I expected to get an answer from her. I figured it would take her about 30 minutes or so to narrow down the eating options ahead of us, it took her 45.
We landed at a small Italian restaurant tucked away on the Main Street of a little town off the interstate. We were the only customers there which freaked my wife out but I convinced her to give it a shot. Our waitress was a cute 19 or 20-year-old, in nursing school who had worked at the restaurant for three years. Because we were her only customer she had plenty of time to answer the questions I began to pepper her with.
I was impressed with this young ladies poise and demeanor. She had a plan for the future and a good head on her shoulders. I could sense the compassion and empathy she felt for people. She said she wanted to be a nurse because she wanted to help people, which is the typical stock answer, but I believed her, I saw it on her face.
After playing twenty questions with her I asked her one last thing, what have you learned about people after waitressing for three years? Her answer showed me she was wise beyond her years. She said; “I have learned not to take things personally. People come here with their own baggage. Some are laid back and pleasant like the two of you but others are having a bad day. Sometimes they take it out on me, it’s not personal, I am just the one in front of them. They may be really nice people but something is going on in their life that has upset them. If they get mad at me I just smile and try to make them happy. I can’t always make them happy, but I can always try.”
It is easy to get cynical about the state of the world and some of the people who occupy this space with us. For us older people it is very easy to become disenchanted with the younger generation just as the old folks were disenchanted with you and I in our youth. We all need to do a better job of reminding ourselves that this world is filled with more good people than bad, compassionate, emphatic people. The reason we forget is we only read or hear about the bad. The good things people do just don’t make the news or simply go unnoticed.
Just because we have the poster child for arrogance, excess, gluttony, and greed sitting in the White House doesn’t mean the rest of the world is on the same path. Yes, I know that is hard to remember sometimes, but it was proven to me again last night by a cute red-head who served me Lasagna.