Sunday, August 17, 2008

AN OPEN LETTER

Note: I wrote this Friday night but was too busy to post it!

I spent at least forty-five minutes unbearably pleasant and optimistic today. (The unfailing pleasantry was dampened slightly by the dark skies when I wanted to eat lunch outside, okay?) In the interest of being fair, I was hellbent on having a good day because later tonight—and I mean, boy howdy, not until 10 p.m., which has turned into my bedtime—I will be drinking beer. While that's usually just marginally enough for me to survive a bad day Much Much Later Tonight also includes people I enjoy and the general good times that can be positively associated with beer and People I Generally Enjoy. Still, it only takes one person to fart on the commuter bus to dampen those spirits, doesn't it? (Yes, it does.)

Today's insufferable agreeable attitude comes thanks to a fellow commuter:

To the Young Man in the Brown Suit at Shady Grove Metro:

Thank you for letting me approach the farecard machine first. No, really: thank you. I suspect from you suit that you ride the Metro frequently and you probably wear a suit every day of the week to go to your job, which I suspect, you love as much as everyone else in the city loves his or her job.

I didn't know you were standing in line until you made your gracious move to let me move ahead. I had started to lunge for an open line—something I've been chastised for here and at home yet also been teased mercilessly for in both cities for letting people move ahead when they are, logically, next—when it was fairly superseded by a woman my age. Surprisingly, I didn't mind waiting in the line I was in.

It was not held up by tourists, an old person, or a large family, all demographics that irritate me only when I'm using Metro. Instead it was a young man not much younger than I am, and he was fumbling with his wallet to extract money without 1) drawing attention to its bulge 2) dropping the items in his arms 3) lose his loose change. I was that young woman last week. I dropped my wallet and the machine spit all of the money back at me, and inexplicably receiving nine dollars in quarters and nickels I uttered the f-word next to a first grader.

Do you know what's more stressful than running late for your bus and receiving nine dollars in quarters? Cursing out a seven-year-old. I apologized, and her mother didn't hear it (getting me out of a stickier situation) but I still feel bad. I still feel a little stressed out, to be honest.

So I didn't mind. You weren't there for the premature lunge, I know because I would have run into your arm. But you were there when I zoned out and you were still there when another line opened, so you tapped me on the shoulder and quietly pointed me to the line. I added money to my SmartTrip—did you notice? I didn't drop anything or use any unsavory language—and with a spring in my step, returned to my bus stop.

I like to remind people that my adjustment to leaving Baltimore is going poorly in the face of Really Mean People in Frederick County. I like to illustrate that part of Baltimore's charm is the widespread quirky personality and kindness of the people, and I like to list all the nice things strangers did for me while I ran the streets: walking me to the front door of a club (even if it wounded my pride in the process), giving directions to any location from any location using any form of transportation, saying Good Morning and genuinely meaning it—especially when the morning isn't good for anyone at all—just because we're passing each other on the same side of the sidewalk, calling every stranger by a pet name because they mean it, not because they're patronizing or ironic. Sometimes I go out of my way in the face of what Outsiders notice—the appallingly high per capita murder ride, the violent crime, the deteriorating streets, the foul stench—because I'm willing to believe that strangers (or friends and family) don't believe me. And in that same vein I'm likely to occasionally "forget" that time my roommate and I drove to Paper Moon and a dude leaned out of his upstairs window with an AK47. And he was not being filmed for The Wire.

I know it's a small thing, telling some kid that a line has just opened up, but it's made my day a little more sunny, my frigid office a little warmer, and the slowing ticking hands of the clock move a little faster. I hope someone does something completely logical nice for you today, too.

Sincerely,

Katherine M. Hill

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