Friday, April 28, 2017

Open Heart, Closed Mind

To quote the Bangles, it was, “Just another manic Monday”. Barry and I have had a number of them over the past six months, and despite their now routine nature we still have not acclimated. When the entry bell rang, I was in my office trying to ensure payroll checks did not bounce. Although that particular crisis has never happened at Twin Rocks, there have been a few close calls, and I fear the revolt that would immediately ensue if salaries went unpaid. Dragging myself up from the desk, I walked into the showroom to greet the young lady who had just entered through the Kokopelli doors. “Do you have a public restroom”, she immediately inquired, obviously anxious for an answer. The trails run long in southeastern Utah, and lavatories are often hard to come by. This is where the road ends and the adventure begins, not where you find quick and easy pit stops.

Having traveled with young children for years, I am aware how urgent bathroom issues can become. Indeed, on occasion I have vowed to eternally boycott businesses which denied access to their facilities when one of my kids was desperate for relief. Despite my extensive understanding of the issue, I still have lapses of sarcasm. Maywepee, I thought, using the term Barry, Priscilla and I developed for those who only want to use our toilets and have no interest in turquoise and silver. We generally only apply the label to elderly bus travelers who act as though they have an entitlement, consume massive amounts of our time, complain about our prices and never, never say thank you. Of course, when we are overworked we are known to apply the epithet to others. It was, however, a beautiful afternoon and the woman had an extremely nice smile, so I smiled back and directed her down the hall.

When she re-emerged a short while later, her cell phone was in her hand and her eyes locked on the screen. She scrolled madly through what seemed to be a large volume of content. Wondering whether she might stumble over something and seriously injure herself, I watched closely and made a mental note to call our insurance agent and confirm the premium had been timely paid. Once again letting cynicism get the best of me, I applied my Millennial bias, and concluded she was too young to have developed good manners.

I assumed that once she accomplished her mission she would quickly exit the way she had entered. She, however, put aside the phone and lingered, browsing among the Navajo rugs and baskets. After a time, I realized we were in it for the long term and asked, “Are you on the road?” In addition to descriptive terms for bus travelers, Barry, Priscilla and I have developed a number of prompts to get the conversation started when folks visit the trading post. Having once had a memorably bad experience when I asked a traveler whether she was staying in Bluff, I am now more careful how I phrase the questions. This particular inquiry seems to be nonthreatening. That, combined with the Jack Kerouac reference, appears to make the "on the road" icebreaker less threatening to attractive females.

“Yes”, she responded excitedly, “I am traveling three months!” “Three months”, I exclaimed, “90 days, 2,160 hours, a quarter of the year?” “Yup, that’s right”, she confirmed. “Wow, how did you get so much time off”, I pressed.” “Well”, she said, “I got a divorce, dropped out of college, left my job and had open-heart surgery. I thought it might be a good time to travel and decide what to do with the rest of my life.” Embarrassed I might have pushed too far, I searched for a workaround. “How does one so young have open-heart surgery”, I asked, avoiding the issues of failed marriages and premature termination of work and school.

She explained that as a veteran she had visited the VA for a regular check-up and discovered the potential broken heart. A quick trip to the cardiologist, and a week later she was on the operating table. “That”, she declared, “changed my life.” “Yup”, I said, parroting her response to my earlier question. At that point, we seemed to arrive at a comfortable place and she confided, “I discovered I am an artist.” Seeing I was interested, she continued, “Wanna see?” “Sure”, I said, not knowing what to expect, and remembering our photographer friend Karen, who always slips a nude or two into her portfolio before giving us a peek, to “get a rise out of us.” Re-extracting her phone, she brought up images of her recent work. “I had no idea I could do this”, she said, displaying a beautifully pictured honey bee sitting on a sunflower. It didn’t take long to realize she did indeed have a great talent.

At that point, I began to realize I had once again fallen into an old and pernicious habit. Since we live in a culturally diverse location, I take a great deal of pride in being, “colorblind”. I often talk with Kira and Grange about evaluating people based upon their character, not the color of their skin. While one might think that because of this stance I would be less inclined to invent terms like “Maywepee” and prejudge Millennials, that is not always the case. What this fascinating young woman reminded me is that I all too often allow myself to arrive at unsubstantiated conclusions. By making unfounded assumptions, I almost overlooked an interesting person who was willing to share extremely personal experiences. In revealing her open heart, my new friend exposed my closed mind. Priscilla has suggested open-mind surgery might be useful.

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