Help Offered to Strangers During The Mundane: A Spark
Last month, I was standing in a Generic Office Supply Store, waiting for my planner to be made. Every year, I find myself a planner, and for the last two or three years, I’ve simply bought a planner from a retail store, then worked with the in-store print services counter to alter it.
I’ve found a lady who does a really good job at this. When she was fired from one Office Supply Store because of nothing that she did, and then hired on at another Office Thing just down the road because a previous manager was also working there, I was thrilled to find her again. She’s wonderfully friendly, she’s good at her job, and she creates a quality product. Her name is Ginger.
I originally arrived at Office Thing on a Saturday and was told that the work order flow wouldn’t allow room for me until Thursday. This isn’t at all like the other Office Thing that Ginger worked for in the past, but I put in a work order to work with Ginger on her shift on Thursday.
That day, we took the bus, Toby and I, and we were happy to see her familiar face. She began work right away: cutting tabs off and picking a paper to match, figuring out how many pages to add, then inserting the cut-to-size pages throughout the planner and punching holes, then rebinding it.
Well, somewhere in the middle of the insertion of extra pages, the trickle of people beside me grew. I stood off to a less central section of counter space and let them by: people who also wanted something from the people behind the print desk. Once I finished figuring out where I wanted new pages to go, I stepped away and let Ginger work her magic behind the desk. I noticed her craft: she merged with a team of three other people to handle the flow of people. People there to pick up orders completed, people there to pay for copies.
I also noticed that no one was being turned away like I had been that previous Saturday. Ginger approached everyone as if they had immediate importance. She found a way to squeeze everyone in. At one point, during my watching and listening and waiting, I heard from her: “Hey, Joe– do you know where the FedEx Office is?” I heard her ask two other employees before her question registered with me.
“I know where it is,” said I. All behind the desk turned to me in surprise, then Ginger turned to a gentleman holding a FedEx tag that are found on doors. So did I, and I began giving directions. The gentleman looked at me and mouthed, “I can’t hear you.”
So I swiftly but haltingly switched to sign language. Ginger was more surprised surprised but then switched to pleased and went on to other matters, handing the service over to me. I drew the gentleman a map and gave him directions as well. He looked quizzical, but went out to follow my directions.
I turned to Toby, sitting at a table near the print desk. When I had him well under way with a meal out of the diaper bag, I turned around to check on Ginger when I found the gentleman standing next to me again.
“The gate was shut and I couldn’t get into the parking lot,” he told me. He’s inching closer to panic; I know that feeling: I just want my package. He showed me his door tag. It had two or three dates written on it; the FedEx guy had tried to deliver on those dates, but this guy still didn’t have his package. He was clearly irritated and at a loss, and as we reviewed his other options, I could tell he didn’t like using the computer.
So I offered to call the 1-800 number for him. I offered to sit on hold for him, pretend like it’s my package I’m trying to schedule a delivery for, to struggle with an apathetic and heavy accent, and to be on hold once again.
While I’m on hold the second or third time, sitting in Office Thing, I notice Ginger’s flow of people has dissipated. The only person standing in front of the desk has an impatient and bored posture. Out of impulse, I take a few steps and tap her on the shoulder.
“I’m on hold; wanna dance?”
I can feel my eyes sparkle and my mouth tweak mischievously. I switch my phone to speakerphone and begin bouncing and bopping. This person is a thin, healthy-looking grey-haired stranger whose face lights up. She and I share a second or two of dancing in the middle of Office Thing to hold music; the area in front of the print desk has become a dance floor and she and I are boogying down on the party scene, carefree and exercising, two strangers united in the unity of motion.
Then she laughs and stops and the magic is over; the mundane sets in again. I conclude the call with FedEx, tell this gruff guy named Gary when FedEx will try another delivery to his house, and pay for my new planner. I bundle up Toby and all his empty food wrappers, and we go home.
But nearly two months later, I can still remember two looks of relief on two strangers’ faces.