I stood at the urinal and, looking to my right, I noticed the Executive Chef.
“Nice job tonight,” I offered gently.
Turning over his shoulder he said, “Thank you. Wahdyah have?”
I am in Boston.
I stared at the porcelain tiles ahead of me and, at that moment, I realized that everything I had heard 74 hours ago – all that I had been struggling with – finally made sense.
My wife and I come here every eighteen months or so, just to change our scenery and to visit our old haunts, to eat good food and to share the drink of the New Englander. From our home in the south it’s but a 90 minute plane ride. Just close enough but an entire world away. We love it here. We always will.
On this trip, our flight was delayed and we did not arrive at our VRBO apartment until the wee hours of a Friday morning. Blurry eyed and hoping that our host would greet us, we were, instead, welcomed by a tenant of the same building. He was 28 years old and just coming in from a night on the town. He asked us to come into his place to wait. We gratefully accepted. We were complete strangers but he allowed us into his home with uninhibited open arms.
During the exchange of conversation we told him of our affinity for Boston and how it had become a home-away-from-home for us. He told us about how much the city had changed, in his mind, in the ten years since he arrived from Florida. We listened. We talked. And I wondered.
“People are not friendly here,” he exclaimed as he offered us another glass of water. I stood astonished. Maybe we were entering into a respite that may not live up to expectations or, more importantly, to our memories.
During the next few days during our visit I watched the younger generation. I studied their movements. I took note of their actions. I saw how their heads were lowered, their chins were sunken, and how their eyes rarely made contact with another’s. They did not engage, therefore, others did not engage them. It makes sense to me that a 28 year old would conclude that people here are “not friendly.”
My wife and I thanked each bus driver and each MBTA official that helped us and, every time, they smiled and thanked us back. We reveled in the conversations we had with each bartender, park ranger, and tour guide and the generosity they bestowed upon us with suggestions and recommendations. In soliciting meaningful dialogue we, in return, received human interaction with a smile.
While washing my hands next to the head chef in the bathroom I reached my epiphany. I planted a flag on the mountain top of my generation’s climb in trying to understand the young people of today. To receive, you must give. If you do not give, you will not receive. If you are friendly to others, they will be friendly to you. Act as though you do not care, and others will act accordingly in return.
I am sad that this lesson was lost on our savior of that Friday morning. He gave himself to us and we, in trade, shared with him our own personalities and our own emotions. If he had stopped and thought and realized that he was, at that moment, the embodiment of kindness that he had so hoped to find, then maybe he would see this city through a different lens.
People are friendly everywhere in America and they are ready to exhibit it. It takes but a simple gesture to offer it, to show it and to put it on display; regardless if its Boston, 2:37am, in the restroom of a downtown restaurant, or if you are 28 or 48.