I find it interesting that in such a populous area we fight so hard to avoid one another. Or maybe it’s just me, and you’re all finding ways to get together without inviting me.
But I have some advice for you. The next time you’re feeling like an ogre, go shopping at the Pavilion’s on Alameda Avenue in Burbank. Battle for a parking space. Go inside and find that you’ve forgotten your list, coupons and green bags. Crash carts with that lady who got the last Loreal Shimmering Color T53 hair treatment before you. Pick a dozen extra-large eggs that has only 11 good ones. Scream at your kids to get their hands out of the olive bar. Pick up some steaks and let the juice run down your arm and onto your pants. Smile through gritted teeth at the 23 clerks who will ask if you’re finding everything all right today.
And once you’ve run that grocery store gauntlet, find the longest checkout line and stand in it. Chances are Barbara is the checker, and you’ll never get into anyone else’s line again.
I probably met Barbara a dozen times before I really met her. In a world where we interact with so many people on a daily basis yet know so few of them, she was just another checker at my local supermarket.
I was alone on this shopping trip. I don’t remember what I bought and wasn’t paying much attention to anyone around me. When it was my turn, the checker smiled broadly and acted as if we were long-lost friends.
“Hey! How are you? How are those two beautiful girls of yours?”
And I thought to myself, “Stalker?”
But no. This is Barbara. And she is about the friendliest person I’ve ever met. A warmth so sincere it’s shocking; it jolts you from the walking coma you’re in day by day. She’s genuinely kind, effusive and warm, though she admits to being a little shy, which I don’t believe.
Hers is not the corporate-mandated courtesy that clerks are forced to offer at supermarkets nowadays.
“No, I don’t need help to my car today, thanks. It’s just a pack of gum.”
And it isn’t just me. She’s like this with everyone in her line and many who aren’t. When it’s your turn in Barbara’s line, you just want to pull up a chair and stay for a while.
I sat with Barbara recently in the deli section of the store, selfishly taking up her time while she tried to eat a salad on her lunch break. The first question I asked her was, “What makes you so friendly?”
“I think it’s just natural,” she told me. “I think I get that from my parents. They were so nice and so good to us kids.”
The only girl in a brood of five, Barbara had a great example set for her by her parents. Happily married for 53 years, her folks were active in the community and always available to their kids. Her father died six years ago, but her mom is still around to provide the kind of motherly love and no-nonsense support that kids of all ages need.
“And I’m a Christian,” she added. “A lot of it is my faith. I think God watches over me and my son. I may not go to church every week, but I try to teach my son to treat people the way you’d like to be treated.”
And it is for her 14-year-old son that she lives.
A really good day for Barbara is this: “Hanging out with my son, having a couple of his friends over and going to the park. I’ll sit in the shade and watch them play baseball. Afterwards we’ll order a pizza and I’m good to go. I don’t need a lot of things. The best day is spending it with him.”
And it’s not just her own son who makes her happy. When I asked her what the best thing about her work is, she didn’t hesitate.
“The kids,” she said with peace and sureness in her voice.
She’s so popular with them that she gets invited to their birthday parties. “I see these kids grow up. That’s the part I like. I get to know people.”
She belongs at a local “mom and pop” market where she can say things like, “Do you want me to put that on your tab, Joe?” But I’m glad she’s at my supermarket. She brings some humanity and personality to such a big, impersonal place.
From a management view, I’m sure long checkout lines are to be avoided. But to this regular shopper, that long line is the unequivocal sign of an incredibly valuable employee, a truly good person and the very reason I shop at this market.
A recent Harvard University study tells us that happiness is contagious. One’s proximity to and frequent face-to-face interaction with happy people is fundamental to one’s own happiness. That’s something you can’t get from texting, e-mailing or using the automated checkout.
Living simply, loving fully and giving the free gift of kindness to people. Money can’t buy happiness, the cliché goes. But some clichés are true. Family, community, God, sunny days, kids playing ball, pizza and friends.
It’s so simple. Which is probably why most of us don’t believe it. Good thing we have someone like Barbara to remind us once in a while.
PATRICK CANEDAY is a Glendale native and freelance writer who lives and works in Burbank. He may be reached at email@example.com.