It was spring of 2014 when I sat at a McDonald’s table. My laptop buzzing loudly, my fries on my tray with a half eaten McChicken, I stared hard at my laptop screen with my word document of a paper that was barely started. It was a research paper I was writing, something that wasn’t uncommon for me as a college English Major. I remember the time so vividly because when I first walked in with my backpack slung on my right shoulder I noticed an elderly couple sitting at a table immediately to my left. They were drinking coffee and talking to each other like best friends. No one else was sitting inside, but drive-thru buzzed with car upon car. “I need another Big Mac for that order.” I could hear the manager shout to the kitchen as he was preparing the bag of food for the car at the window. I slowly approached the counter where the girl smiled and asked me what I wanted. I gave her my order and then nestled myself into a booth by an outlet. Pulling out my laptop and my notebook that had sloppily written notes on several pages. My laptop groaned as I turned it on. My order number was called and I grabbed my food. Then I set out to work.
I was about a half hour into writing my paper when I heard the elderly man go up and ask for more coffee (I was fairly close to the counter as that’s where the booths were, kiddie-corner from the ordering counter). His wife stood nearby not to far from my booth, and when the husband walked back to her he gave her her cup and they proceeded to go out the second door (one would have to walk past my booth to go out this door). I was watching them as they were shuffling their way out, and the husband looked at my laptop and to me and smiled. I smiled back.
“So you working on school work?”
“Yes sir. I’m working on a research paper for a class.”
“Ah. Wow, you must be a hardworker.”
I was curious as to how he could make that conclusion by only seeing me working on my laptop. “Well, my mom and dad tell me hard work will pay off in the end.”
“Where do you go to school?”
“At UW-Green Bay.”
“Ahh, okay. I know a professor there. His name is ___” (I can’t remember the name as it wasn’t a professor I was familiar with)
“Oh, I’ve never had them as a professor. I study English.”
By this point him and his wife had maneuvered their way to my table.
“Do you want to become a teacher.”
“No actually. I like editing and writing, so I’d do something with that.”
“Well that’s not a bad thing either. We always need writers.” And that old man smiled at me. Then without hesitation him and his wife sit down. Right there at my booth, as if I had invited them there like we were old friends. I wasn’t annoyed or scared, just kind of taken back by their willingness to want to sit down with a young person and have a conversation. Like it’s something they always do. Like there wasn’t a fifty or sixty age gap between us. For the next hour and a half we talked about many things. Science. Marriage. Food. Coffee. Politics. Religion. Cities of Wisconsin. It turns out the old man is from a city that’s probably half hour away from my house, the old woman is from Green Bay. In that short time span I learned a lot about them, and they learned quite a bit about me. I didn’t even care that it took into my writing time because it felt nice to just be able to connect with a generation outside of my own.
That story crossed my mind yesterday as I sat in a McDonald’s drinking my coffee trying to figure out some tax information. I procrastinated hard core this year in getting them done earlier (surprise…not like I don’t procrastinate everything). I was just getting the software downloaded when this old man was taking off his jacket at the table in front of me. He was alone. I smiled at him as he looked at me and he noticed my baggy grey sweatshirt I was wearing.
“Green Bay huh. You a fan of Green Bay.”
“No. I just went to school there.”
“Ah, where did you go to school?”
He then started telling me about this famous and great coach that went there–Tony Bennett. Now I don’t know exactly who that is, except that I would pass by his picture on our “Wall of fame” in MAC hallway. I knew of him. This man pulled out his smart phone and spoke into it, “Tony Bennett” so he could show me all about him. Yes, a smart phone. It was an interesting site. After talking to me about sports for some time, he introduced himself as Larry*. Turns out, this gentlemen worked at the same place as my dad does now and actually lives next door to my dad.
“Small world” I say.
And for another three hours this gentleman and I talked about a multitude of things. I learned his granddaughter committed suicide last year. I learned his ex-wife was a drinker (which is why he divorced her) and that she drank herself to death. I also learned he was an avid antics seller on eBay. At one point he thought he asked me if he was boring me to death. I told him no, but I would have to leave for work soon. He asked me where I worked and if I liked it. In the end, before we departed, he told me to stop over anytime, he loves company.
It so interesting how a simple smile can turn into a three hour conversation. The simple things in life sometimes have a way of being more important than they’re given credit for. A smile towards a stranger. A hug for a coworker. A “Hi” in passing. It all adds up to something more meaningful. It’s so cliche to say it, but it’s so true. In the end, yeah sure I might have to prep my time a bit more precariously to get stuff done, but in the end I could have made that old man’s day. And quite frankly he made mine.
So even if you feel like your insignificant (I often times feel like I am), just remember you aren’t. A coworker might have wanted to commit suicide but because you went out of your way to message them “Hey. Can’t wait to work with you today!” could really can brighten their day.
Remember to smile and carry your head up high. Because you are a rockastar. #bless