Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A day at the bank

Ok, I watch people. SO WHAT.

I do it without notice. I can’t help it. I observe. I dissect with my eyes. You might call it “creeping” or “stalking,” I call it studying the human race. You say tomato, I say...

Every time I’m around people it’s another opportunity for me to try to understand why we behave the way we do. Waiting at the post office, a two-hour layover, half-time at a basketball game, all present unique opportunities to examine the lives of others. It’s an intense form of people watching. Intense because I’m not just staring at you, I’m thinking about why it is you do whatever it is you do.

Everyone has a mother. Has slammed their finger in a door. Has been embarrassed. Has been hurt. Scared. Unsure. Everyone puts their pants on the same way you do - one leg at a time. Every person on this planet has a story. It fascinates me that we all share these common experiences, yet we still see each other as strangers. Sure, I don’t know your name or where you live or what kind of car you drive, but that doesn’t define you. It’s life that we all share, and I love witnessing it.

Excuse me while I put my soap box back in the closet.

Yesterday I went to the bank. As always, it was another chance for me to watch my fellow earth inhabiters. This bank is especially accommodating for my people-study because this branch does not have drive-thru teller windows. It promotes human interaction that way, and that’s something I can appreciate.

I went inside to see a long line. This is typical because this branch is awesome and has its own FREE parking lot (which is conducive to people wanting to use this location), but they usually have several teller windows open and the line moves pretty fast. Not to mention, they are always friendly. I love friendliness. But this day was a bit of an off day and only because I was in line for ten minutes - which is quite longer than usual. Still, it was just ten minutes and hardly long enough for me to even think about getting worked up over it.

But in these ten minutes, I witnessed two significant human interactions, both of which deserved prolonged eye-rolls.

The first of the two happened as I entered the line. I was standing there refusing to play with my phone. Call me old school but I can wait patiently with my thoughts like they did in the olden-days. Six or so people in front of me there was a woman, who was standing on the defense and she wanted everyone to know about it. She had her arms crossed in front of her and I watched as she threw her head back, gave a loud sigh, and shook her head with those short-angry-nods. Out of everyone in line she had my full attention. I began to wonder why she was so upset about waiting. Did she have to rush to work? Did she have a friend in the hospital and was late for visiting hours? Did she have chronic diarrhea? There had to be some reason for her anger and I wanted to know why.

Then she stomped. She literally picked up her right foot and slammed it into the ground. Right where she was standing. Another head shake. Another heavy sigh. This was a grown woman who didn’t want to wait one more second. From the time I entered the line, she was at the window in less than five minutes, which to me seems hardly worthy of a foot stomp. When it was FINALLY her turn she stomped stomped stomped to the window. I kept watching. The teller man was friendly, gave a big smile, and asked “How are you today?”

The woman slammed her deposit slip under the teller window and said, “NOT GOOD, ACTUALLY.”

The poor teller did not see this storm coming. He probably greets a hundred people a day with the same smile, the same enthusiastic “how are you?” and endures dozens and dozens of half invested conversations. But apparently this lady had made her target, and it was this guy.

“I have NEVER had to wait like this! I can’t BELIEVE I had to stand in line!” said the crazy lady. The teller was very apologetic. Over and over again he said he was sorry. Sorry she had to WAIT IN LINE. Hello hello, come-in come-in, lady, welcome to civilization. The woman continued to shake her head, refusing any of his kind words. The saga ended when the teller handed over her receipt, which she snatched, and stomped stomped stomped away.

I never did find out why she was so upset about her less-than-ten-minute wait. Or what exactly she was late for, if anything. Maybe she had a fight with her boss, or her partner, but took it all out on unsuspecting teller at window #8. I try to understand and empathize, but this time I am left unsatisfied.

I was the second person in line when human-observation-story number two happened. Another customer at one of the teller windows pulled out his wallet and in the process dropped a few $20 bills on the floor. I quickly surveyed my comrades in line with me - yep - everyone saw it and was staring at the cash on the ground. The guy at the window was clueless. I paused, wondering if anyone was going to say anything.

After a few tense moments I couldn’t take it anymore and spoke with a purpose, “Hey, I think you dropped something.”

The guy looked around, saw the money on the floor, and was grateful. “Thank you, wow, I didn’t even notice.”

No kidding you didn’t notice! But everyone else did...why was I the only person to say something? If I hadn’t said anything would the guy have walked off? Would someone have had the will to actually snatch this guy’s money off the floor?

Within a ten minute wait I found myself clinging to a small thread that has become my faith in humanity. Are we so troubled by waiting in line? Are we so detached from compassion we’ll let someone drop money on the floor as if it were a soggy newspaper?

We all have our lives. Our troubles. Our joys. Victories and losses. Sleepless nights and funny bone injuries. Vending machines that eat your quarters and socks that disappear into oblivion during the laundry. Just because I don't know you personally - name, birthday, job, favorite movie - doesn't mean your life is worthless to me. I don't know you, but I'm going to tell you when you drop cash on the floor. When you're pissed off because you had to wait in line, I'm going to wonder why you have to take out your frustration on the teller. I'm also going to wonder why you're acting so childish. It's a bank. There's a line. Deal with it - if that's the worst part of your day then realize how lucky you really are.

My point is my faithful reader(s), and I do have one, when you find yourself surrounded by strangers remind yourself that they are just like you. Find the commonality and relate knowing we are all trying to play this game of life at the same time. Don't trouble yourself so much over the little things - like the line at the bank. Identify with the person who drops their money, or keys, or whatever, because how would you feel if it happened to you?

We are so obsessed with being different we forget how much we are the same. Try to relate. Listen. Empathize. What's the worst that can come from a little understanding?

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