Tonight was a good night.
The early part of my day was spent reflecting on a job interview that absolutely bombed, and in searching for distractions from words that just would not come.
The better part of an audiobook went by barely noticed, but I got a lift when I was eating my enchiladas, and the cantina manager was smiling and enjoying his life.
For the last many weeks, I’ve been stopping in at a local Mexican restaurant before joining friends for cards on Thursdays. My needs are not many in such a place; margaritas without salt and food that arrives with rice and beans.
Last week when I came in, the manager was behind the bar and greeted me with, “Margarita, amigo?” My response of “no salt” was pro forma, he was already pouring by the time I spoke.
Tonight, he was down the hall when I entered. He smiled, I smiled, and moved on. Turning the corner into the cantina proper, I found an open table and divested myself of my cold weather gear. I exchanged greetings with the bartender.
When I bellied up, he was pouring from a prepared pitcher into an unrimmed glass. I gave my order, and he nodded, finished the drink he was working on, and started talking to the manager in Spanish.
He got a response in English, and my smile nearly broke my face. “It’s for him. Beunas Tardes, amigo.”
It’s been nearly twenty years since I’ve had a bartender who starts pouring when I come in the door. Mind you, 20 years ago is a bit blurry, and the healthy relationship my friends and I had with the wait staff was a big part of it.
But this was different. This was a welcoming, a recognition of both custom and place. I now belonged there, and not just like one of the cigarette stained barflys, or fans of local sports teams who yell at the televisions. They know my drink, they know my food order, and some day, they might even learn my name.
When I left to catch my bus, I was smiling. It wasn’t just the margaritas, or the pleasant feeling of beans in my belly. As I was paying the bill, I felt compelled to tell the manager about my grandfather’s restaurants.
Good, honest food made by people who cared. My uncles worked there, as did my mother and my aunt. I grew up in the bar under their watchful eyes, playing chess with the patrons, and later Donkey Kong. For many years afterward, I would attempt to order a “Carlos Tostada” in other cantinas, until it dawned on me that the item I wanted was actually named after my Uncle Karl. The brand of beans I buy for home use is determined by how they smell when cooked, and how closely they match the tastes of my youth.
I told him that when I come to a place more than once, it’s because it’s real. I told him that I felt welcome in his restaurant, and he thanked me for the telling.
Maybe it was the margaritas, but I’d say it in the full light of day as well.
Since it was not daytime, the bus stop’s shelter was packed with humans trying not to freeze. Respecting their space, I stood by the schedule, and soon figured out why.
A young man came over, and asked me what time it was. Anticipating his next question, I pointed to the schedule and told him it would be five minutes unti the next bus arrived.
I tend to look people in the eyes when I talk, and try to keep a smile in the words. He thanked me, and then unbidden started telling me about the amazing conversations he’d just had with strangers on a different bus.
This happens to me all the time. Both the conversations, and strangers telling me about their lives. It’s who I am, and odds are high that I’ll listen to just about anyone’s story.
Turns out, this kid has the same problem. So we talked about that instead, of what it means to be a listener, and what should be done with what you hear. About acting responsibly, living your life in a way that does the least harm, and best good.
Not my historical strengths, but I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd these days.
He’s 21 years old, studying international business law. I’ll likely never see him again, but I’m happy I waited a couple minutes to talk to the cantina manager. I’m happy I went to the bank to deposit a check, instead of waiting to do so today.
I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be there.
Becuase I don’t really care about the job interview anymore. I could have done better at preparing. I could have displayed a better technical vocabulary when talking to a potential coworker.
But that wouldn’t have been me. I went to the meeting prepared to talk to people. About who I am, about how I help people to succeed and best use their strengths. That’s what I did, and two out of three people I talked to there appreciated it.
If I’d spent a bunch of money to earn a certificate granting me special powers of conversation for such meetings, I’d have a new job right now. Software programs and methodologies are the new magic, and I’m a hidebound practitioner of the old.
And though I may never be the person that job wanted me to be, I can, and will, learn what I didn’t know about, and apply it to how I do things moving forward.
Until then, it’s margaritas and enchiladas, with rice and beans on the side. It’s warm smiles and conversations, and being the best me I can be.