I heard a really cool story from a customer the other day. She’s recently gone back to school, and her cohort spent a week together on campus essentially getting to know each other. The major theme of the week was “Connections,” and the students had to bring a meaningful gift to share with an assigned partner in the group. Over the course of the week, they shared stories about themselves and their lives, opening up to each other as the days passed.
One of the women in the group eventually shared her history as an Olympic athlete, who had competed in two recent Games. She had lost her father years ago, but had kept his memory with her over the intervening years by carrying, no matter where she went, a gift that he had given her… a piece of the Berlin Wall. As she travelled the globe, competing at the highest level sport has to offer, this piece of the wall went everywhere with her… until earlier this year, when somehow she lost it. The woman, as you can imagine, was devastated.
As I mentioned earlier, each person in the group had brought a gift to share with their assigned partner. Care to guess what the random person she was paired up with had brought for his partner? That’s right… a piece of the Berlin Wall. Of all the millions of things he could have chosen to bring; heck, of all the different people within the group that she could have been paired up with. I have no idea what the odds against something like that happening are, but the number is big… like really, really big. It’s kinda spooky, really, although things like this happen every day, all over the place… we’re just not always aware of them. Are they evidence of that universal guiding force, creating moments like this all over the place? Perhaps, although with the number of interactions between people that happen every day, things like this are bound to occur. Regardless of your take, it really is a small, connected world, and one that is getting smaller and more connected as time goes by.
The whole connections theme she talked about really got me thinking… not so much about connections in the spiritual sense, but about the smaller, more everyday connections that we make, or don’t make, on a regular basis.
I’ve been working for Starbucks for a really, really, ridiculously long time… almost exactly a third of my life. I’d have never guessed when I started how long I would last with the company, and in a lot of ways it’s been waaaaay too long. That said, it’s been pretty good for me in a lot of ways, and to this day there are still parts of it that I really enjoy. As I said to someone recently, the customers are the best part of the job… and, often, the worst part of it as well. I’ve got some amazing pain-in-the-ass customer stories from my years ( my favorite is still the woman who couldn’t understand why I made her take her two dogs, strapped to her chest in a snuggly, out of the store when, and I quote, “these dogs are far cleaner than you (me) will ever be!!!”), but they really are few and far between. Way more common are the people who you see every morning, on their way to their jobs, construction workers and lawyers, doctors and nannies, students and movie stars… is there anything more democratic, more universal, than the morning cup of coffee?
The conversations move at varying speeds, 30 seconds at a time, but they all travel the same route… from “what can we do for you this morning” to “it’s a grande dark, right?” to “the usual, Marty?” to “hey, Jess, how was your trip? Survived travelling with the kids, did you?” Impersonal and business-like becomes friendly, as connections are made, and in some cases strengthened. Over the years I’ve gone for beers with customers, added a few of them on Facebook (random aside… I’m shocked that Word didn’t recognize Facebook as an actual word), even gotten interviews and jobs through connections that I made at Starbucks. Every time I go out and about in my neighbourhood, I run into someone, or often many someones, that I know.
What’s amazing to me is that I live in a city that has an incredibly strong reputation as a place where those connections are hard to make. Vancouver, apparently, is a totally shut down city where people stay in their own little bubbles, heads down, earphones on, carefully getting from A to B without ever actually making eye contact with anyone, and god forbid you actually speak to someone you don’t know. Maybe I’m the anomaly, but that’s never been my experience of this, or any other place. Maritimers are renowned for being friendly, down-to-earth people, the opposite of we Vancouverites… and while I didn’t find that to be wrong, people were really friendly there, I didn’t find it to be all that different from here. People are people, in my experience, no matter where they’re from… accents are different, some customs change, but people are people.
Not too far down the road, I’m going to be leaving Starbucks behind, finally. My teaching career is about to fully engage, and I’ll move, on, leaving the green apron behind. It will be interesting to see how that changes my life; without those forced, every day connections, will I slowly start to see the Vancouver everyone else does? Is the job what makes my experience different, or is it something in me? Who knows, I guess, the only way to answer a question like that is to wait and see. I’d be surprised, though… maybe it’s the small town in me, maybe it’s an inherent friendliness that others pick up on, or maybe it’s my considerable charm and devastating good looks… ok, definitely not that last one, but I think the first two fit. I am making a choice to keep those connections going, and continue to make new ones. Why not? Really, what is there to lose, by trying to be a friendly face to the world?