My wife wanted to get the next Uber out of northern New Hampshire after she heard a blizzard was headed our way. Even the dog was barking anxiously to return to Connecticut. I suspect she was suffering withdrawal because she hadn’t barked at a mailman for almost a week, not to mention the UPS man or the Fed Ex woman or the Jehovah Witnesses. On the other hand, maybe she was worried about the budget crisis back home.
While we were in the North Country, she had nothing to occupy her except an occasional moose wandering listlessly out of the woods and field mice scampering through the walls at night.
Despite the weather forecast, I insisted on staying because this was the closest thing to a vacation I’d had in a long time. Plus, I wanted to see real snow, the swirling, blinding kind, so I could break in my new snow rake and maybe sprain my back while cleaning off the roof.
You realize that life is different in the North Country as soon as you cross the state line. It’s another world. While I was driving through Littleton, the traffic was backed up worse than Lexington Avenue at rush hour even though there was only one stoplight. Why? Motorists were stopping to let pedestrians cross the street. Try that in Midtown and see what happens.
In addition, drivers slowed down and stopped when the light turned yellow. Back home, when it turns yellow, people speed up so they can run the red light. It makes me wonder whether our DNA differs from theirs.
When I went to the grocery store to buy frozen pizza, yogurt and salad mix, every person I encountered smiled and said, “Good morning, how are you today?” When I get off the train at Grand Central and walk through the streets of Manhattan, the only people who are friendly are panhandlers.
I’ve never been to a grocery store before where the cashier will talk to you for five minutes and be genuinely concerned about what you have to say. I took advantage of the opportunity and told her about my retirement investments (she offered a few stock tips), our latest family feud (she gave me personal advice about raising daughters) and my interest in a Subaru or Ford Explorer (she said to buy American – Donald Trump would be proud).
I’m convinced this friendliness points to the difference between the “two Americas” — the heartland where genuine people live and those bizarre places inhabited by the likes of Charlie Sheen and Lena Dunham.
In the North Country, kindness and courtesy came naturally, and people weren’t obsessed with groveling to get ahead or clawing their way to the top over the other guy. We always seem to be preoccupied with the relentless pursuit of more, more, always more, regardless of what it costs in time, effort and compromised values. It makes me wonder whether success at any price is a good thing.
We talk about charity, honesty and civility, but it’s only talk. The woman selling cold cuts behind the meat counter of the grocery store knew more about those values than most people I’ve met. In fact, she was so pleasant that I bought some corned beef and Swiss cheese so we could make Reubens. (Since my doctor was 300 miles away, he’d never know I indulged myself with red meat and dairy products.)
Northern New England can seem like another place in time. Once while I was driving my father’s old Ford van through the mountains, I slid off the highway and figured I’d be there for the rest of the night — if not the rest of my life — until a fellow in his 70s pulled over to help. At first I was suspicious. (Are there many 70-year-old bandits out there?)
But he was a kind gentleman who thought I might be injured, and instead of calling a tow truck or the police, he helped me push the van back onto the road. Don’t get me wrong, there are Good Samaritans in New York, but they can get shot or assaulted when they try to help someone.
The next morning, instead of poring over headlines about protests, sex assaults in Central Park, politicians committing fraud, yet another fiscal crisis in Connecticut and the high cost of healthcare, I went outside to get firewood. Then, I sat by the woodstove and watched the snow come down. The storm ended the next day after 18 inches had fallen. Sadly, it was time to go home to the so-called “real world.”
Contact Joe Pisani at [email protected]