“How are you doing, Rob?”
“Hi, how are you?”
Yesterday my family and I went to Billings for church. It was a marathon trip:
-Beau rolled into the yard in the pickup and horse trailer at 12:30, his day’s work finished.
-By 1:30 we were locked and loaded and leaving the ranch.
-On our way down the lane we discovered that a pen-ful of calves had escaped the feedlot and was running amok in the field to the south. Just when we all thought work was done for the day, a handful of the crew quickly reassembled and, by God’s good grace, we recaptured the shysters relatively quickly. I even left the kids buckled into the running pickup and got in on the gathering action. You haven’t lived ’til you’ve stared down a bunch of naughty, crazy-eyed, 800-pound steers… while on foot… while wearing your best crisp white church-y shirt… while slogging through feedlot runoff in your new Christmas boots…
(*sniff* — they’ve officially been violated)
… with the overly-helpful, overtly clueless family-dog-who-you-sometimes-secretly-hope-would-just-disappear by your side.
(Ha ha. Just kidding, Swoog. I know you… try.)
I threatened the naughty steers like this: “I’m going to church today, you big, fat, naughty bastards — you’re not gonna stop me this time. Now just go on and get back in your pen there before I do something we’ll all regret.”
-We made it to Billings about 3 o’clock and had to meet the world-famous Pepe the Feed Salesman to pick up a special feed that helps to synchronize the yearling heifers that will be AI’d this year. First we met Pepe at the warehouse west of the interstate, but he couldn’t find the feed there. So then we all drove to the warehouse east of the interstate, but he couldn’t find the feed there. So we all drove back to the warehouse west of the interstate… and he finally found the feed and Beau loaded it.
-We got Beau to his 4 o’clock haircut appointment only 10 minutes late. Beau does not have dandruff; it’s only dry scalp. That’s why he bought the special shampoo.
-We actually made it to church. It was wonderful.
-After church we ate at MacKenzie River Pizza. (Best pizza ever. Try the Rancher.) The waitress was cranky.
-Next, on to Sam’s Club to stock up snack items for the ranch crew — as well as groceries for our family. We don’t have a Sam’s card, but the ranch does. I had just gotten a good start at filling the cart with goodies when Beau realized that the ranch’s Sam’s card was expired and that it would cost $45 to renew it when we checked out. It was a moral dilemma for him; he couldn’t decide whether or not it was within his jurisdiction to renew the Sam’s card using the single, precious PV Ranch credit card. (Welcome to our everyday in corporate ranch management, where it’s really hard to tell who’s qualified to make important decisions like should we renew.) Finally he decided NO, that he couldn’t renew the Sam’s card without asking the higher-ups first. So I left my half-filled cart in the middle of the store — first time I’ve done that in my life — and stalked out to the pickup.
-We went to Walmart, where a gal doesn’t have to pay a membership for the right to shop.
-You know the guy who owns this ranch is tied in with both Sam’s Club and Walmart, right?
-We made it home about 11 p.m.
Anyhow, I got off on a tangent there. The point of this blog is that yesterday, while in town, I said hello to three people I don’t know well.
It’s always a social dilemma, isn’t it? You’re out on the town, you see somebody you sure enough know but not real well, and you have to decide if you’re gonna duck your head and go the other way or if you’re gonna anti up and be friendly.
I think that all too often in my life I’ve gone the other way — even though I’m an outgoing, confident person. Sure, I have my reasons for sometimes playing the social airhead, just like we all do. For one, saying hello can be inconvenient. What if you’re in the middle of overdrawing your checking account on a cartful of groceries with three whiney kids in tow and you get stuck talking to a classic chit-chatter… all because you just had to be a grown-up and make eye contact? OR… what if you embarrass yourself by saying hi to someone who clearly isn’t all that glad to see you? What if you call someone by the wrong name? Smile at a complete stranger? What about the reality that, in Eastern Montana at least, rural folks know pretty much every living soul within 100 miles, including horses and dogs? Doesn’t it become exhausting trying to smile at every person you vaguely recognize?
Well… you know what they say: it takes fewer muscles to smile than to frown.
Because smiling shouldn’t be so hard for a grown-up. Eye contact shouldn’t be so hard for a grown-up. Both are probably easier than worrying about people who might say later, “She is such a snob. Sometimes she acts like she knows me, and sometimes she acts like she has no idea who I am.”
Because people are more likely to think you’re a snob than an overwhelmed or shy individual.
I remember one time, at a restaurant years after my college graduation, slumping down in the booth and covering my face with the menu in order to avoid eye contact with my college choir professor, Dr. Hart, of whom I am in reality quite fond. What I mean to say is, though we don’t know each other well, there’s a certain degree of intimacy between a gal and the person who looks right inside her mouth for three years as she sings her way through every language. Yet, that day in the restaurant, I pretended I didn’t know him. Why didn’t I just say hello to Dr. Hart? I’ll never know! It was in the heat of a moment, a moment that passed quickly as he walked by. It was a chance to say “Hey, you’re good at what you do”… a chance that may never come again.
I’m always suspicious that Facebook has created more social problems than it’s solved. Because all of sudden we’re all “friends” with people we don’t know real well, and come that awkward day when you and a Facebook friend end up in the very same, very real,very physical place… you’re not sure if you’re good enough friends to say hello in real life! Blogging, too, could easily be a social shortcut for me; I often worry that I’m much better in writing than I am in real life.
What I really want is to be authentic in real life. To practice what I preach when I’m writing. And I’ve decided that looking somebody in the eye and acknowledging that she’s alive and we both know it might go a long way toward authenticity. That’s why my resolution from now on must be to say hello. I don’t have to go into an in-depth conversation; I don’t have to invest a lot of time. But I can smile genuinely. I can be a leader (because obviously leading is natural for me; just ask anyone who’s ever danced with me) and be the first one to say something so we both don’t regret an awkward avoidance later on.
By the way, I didn’t make this resolution and THEN start doing something about it. Instead, I just all of a sudden started saying hi to everyone yesterday… weirdly… and then I got to wondering Why? in the shower this morning.
At Walmart, I saw Mom To The Little Boy My Kids Play With At Ranch Rodeos. I don’t know her name. But I called out, waved, and acknowledged that I’d seen her.
Also at Walmart, I saw Tamaira. We don’t really know each other, we just know of each other. You know what I mean. And have known of each other for at least 20 years. We have lots of mutual friends. Now, I could’ve pretended she was invisible as she walked into the store and I walked out. Instead, I looked her in the eye and smiled and said something like, “Hey, how’s it going?” I didn’t call her by name though, even though we both know the other’s name. Obviously.
Finally, at the mega-church we love to visit in the Billings Heights, I said hello to Rob. The kind of guy you had a really good visit with at a ranch roping 10 years ago, and Where have ten years gone?, and you’re friends on Facebook, but you’re not sure that you’re the “Hey, good to see you!” kind of friends. When we spotted each other in the church lobby, there was that moment of hesitation we all know so well — like, “Uh… is it worth making an effort to say anything… or should I just avert my eyes?”
He was leaning against a wall in the lobby of the church wearing his signature hat. I think it was that hat that gave me the courage to walk over and say hi and mentally squeeze his baby boy’s cheeks. People wearing cowboy hats have to stick together. Not that I was wearing a cowboy hat in real life. Just in my mind.
(This is me pretending I don’t know you.)
© Tami Blake