Saturday, June 28, 2014

My Life in America: Looking at People

 
"Traffic is really backed up this morning adding 5 minutes to your drive."
-Radio station KFKF on morning rush hour traffic in Kansas City, Missouri, USA
 
The Walmart cashier smiled. "What's your favorite thing about being home?" he said.
 
I considered: the open road - where four cars at a stop light is a traffic jam and a five minute delay is an inconvenience…that I can trek to Walmart and home again in under 15 minutes…blue skies…clouds…rain…green…cars that merge, drivers who don't block intersections…worms in black earth under a mountain of wild daylilies…jogging in the street wearing shorts…different nationalities, races, religions, ideological outlooks living, working, existing side by side in (relative) harmony…
 
these beautiful people:
 
 
and that - in my little corner of the world, at least- we look at each other.
 
Gape, gaze, goggle, peep, scrutinize, wonder, glance. We consider one another by appearance, body type and posture. We evaluate strangers based on dress and assess people using external information: he's a businessman in a suit, she's a mom in sweats, there's a sullen teenager hunkered over her phone and that harried homemaker wearing dirty shorts and scrubby tank ran out of mulch while working in the garden.
 
We regard, weigh, contemplate, examine and review. Is his hair color natural? Cute dress. Bratty kid. Muffin top. Sweet couple.
 
daylilies
 
Tall, short, fat, thin, rich, poor? There's sinful judgment in shallow appraisal: he's a hard worker, slacker, health freak. She's alcoholic, overeater, underachiever, mogul, homeless, confident, shy, chic, uncouth. Lookit those Baptists with crosses and Catholics dangling rearview mirror prayer beads. There are Muslims in hijab, Amish in long skirt with tennis shoes and whatever religion wears those little white caps over long, gray beards…
 
Some cultures go to great lengths to discourage looking as it can harvest misconceptions, inaccuracies and wrong impressions.
 
not looking in Doha
 
When nourished with a smile and a greeting, however, looking breeds connection.
 
What are you planting? Where do you work? What kind of phone do you have? Where do you get your hair done? Do you eat here often? How old are your kids? Ever been to a Royals game?
 
In Missouri we smile and say "hello" to joggers on the street. We wave at neighbors out of windows accessible to sidewalks dotted with people. We chat with strangers at Quik Trip, exchange business cards with folks we don't know, say "Pretty Day, don'cha think?" and "How about those Chiefs!" and "Do you know where the laundry soap is?"
 
university prof talks to strangers
 
Sure, life's not perfect, not even in America's heartland. There's crime. Inflation, unemployment, divorce, haves and have nots, Obamacare. But there's comfort in a community that connects with a glance and a grin.
 
I see you
 
The cashier smiled. "Nice to meet you, have a nice day," he said.
 
I shifted the bag of mulch over my scrubby tank and dirty shorts, stepped into the blue sky day and admired the clouds.
 
purty

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