We went to Lowe's yesterday for bathtub caulk to tackle one of those never-ending grown-up projects nobody tells you about before you grow up. This particular Lowe's is quite literally plopped between corn fields and dairy farms in a little town just outside a tourism district, with equal parts beauty and making-ends-meet in a county with 12 total traffic lights and 55 mph as far as you can see--watch out for tractors and buggies.
We find our caulk and get in line at the register behind a guy wearing a maintenance uniform from one of the nearby home rental companies. He's got a lock set he's flipping around in his hands to pass the time. We all nod and go back to staring off into space, waiting our turns.
And then there's a flash of red. Another guy, same age as our maintenance friend (but looking 10 years older) in a sleeves-cut-off red flannel and disintegrating white jeans, materializes in a whoosh and starts talking--Dude, how you been? Where you working? Where? Where? You like it? Hey dude text me sometime--bobbing and weaving and fidgeting. Even his eyes are twitching faster than the speed limit. He is strung out--I mean strung out beyond any hope of anything happening reaching comprehension in his brain. Hopped up on something not at all good and frying as we watch.
Our friend in line avoids eye contact, answers in single words, and gently dismisses the guy. Then he turns to us as if he owes us an explanation and says, "It's terrible what drugs will do." And we start talking. They went to high school together, the maintenance guy and the flash of red, and haven't crossed paths in years. It's a beautiful area but tough to make a living here, and the meth situation is getting worse.
"I've never done anything but work," says our friend, and shakes his head. "The elevator only goes up, you know?" he says. "You either get on it or you keep walking around where you are, but that doesn't go anywhere. Just keep working up."
Then it was his turn to pay and he chatted with the cashier, grabbed his bag, and turned to us again. "You all have a wonderful day," he says, pointing at the rain outside. "Hope you can enjoy some of this liquid sunshine." And then he was off, I'm guessing to install locks in somebody else's house to pay the bills in his own.
Ninety seconds, maybe. Unbelievably sad and very hopeful at the same time. Best motivational speech I've heard in a very long time. I have never been so glad to have dragged my kids to Lowe's in my life.
Maybe 10 years ago, I wrote a series of advertorials for a regional magazine--paid content, so the people who bought them each got an interview and a couple back-and-forths with the copy. Most folks were terrific. There was one guy, though, who was clearly Very Important, blowing off scheduled calls, peppering our interview with heavy, annoyed sighs and interruptions, and letting me know in no uncertain terms that he was way farther up the ladder than I'd ever be and that the article I wrote (from the interview we had) wasn't fit to line a bird cage, only not that nicely. You kid, outta my universe.
I'm now part of his targeted business audience. His ads go in the recycling bin, my business went to a competitor without hesitation, and friends and neighbors who ask for referrals hear both my experience with this guy and get the number of his competition. He recently tried to connect with me on social media. He doesn't remember me, but I vividly remember him.
There's an adage about learning someone's true colors by the way they treat the wait staff. I'd say it's true of the way someone treats anyone "beneath" them, and that it's pretty easy to napalm a bridge they never even considered might exist, but might want to cross someday. Character matters.