A checkout counter with a young woman where nobody was waiting, or the counter with a middle-aged woman who was in the final stages of ringing up a customer. That was the biggest decision I had to make at the grocery store the other day.
If you thought that as a middle-aged single guy I would have opted for the open lane, correct you are not!
The age of the cashier, or to zip through without waiting, are less exciting to me compared to the welcoming smile and sincere small-talk that I can expect with some.
Thus, I waited. She gave me a "hello" smile as she bagged the groceries of the couple that was ahead of me.
"You enjoying the weekend?" she asked as I moved up.
"Yes, I enjoy the weekend, and the weekdays too" I replied.
I was not bullshitting there. Way back, before I returned to academia, yes, there was a distinct difference between my mental state on weekdays and that on the weekends. I hated that job, and I dreaded Mondays and welcomed Fridays.
That has never been my story as an academic though.
Now, the only difference is whether or not I drive to campus. I look forward to meeting with students the days that I drive to campus. When I don't drive to campus, I continue to do my academic job of thinking. I love to do this thinking! Thus, weekends do not matter much.
"That's good" she said. "You are an educator, right?" I was reminded of her usage of "educator" once before.
I nodded yes.
"Of math. No, science."
This is an existential moment that geographers face. If we say we teach geography, people then want to share with us the incorrect view of the discipline that most people all over the world seem to have--that it is about factoids, and cultural aspects in different parts of the world. So, over the years, I have crafted a response in which I conveniently omit the second half of the my academic interests of economic geography.
"Economics" I replied with a smile. Hey, it is not as if I had sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This response was a partial truth!
I decided that it was the best time to ask her a question that had always bugged me. "The way you stand, I have always wondered whether you spent quite some time as a dancer ..."
"Not dancer. Body building."
That I would not have guessed. She is far from having rippling muscles. Yes, she is fit no doubt.
Perhaps she read my mind. "I used to. Not anymore. Years ago, I was so much into it, people used to wonder whether I was really a woman" and she smiled.
"That explains your posture."
"I suppose" and she continued with "back in San Diego, I used to scare men who wanted to date me by flexing my muscles."
There were people behind me and I felt it would be rude if I continued this topic with her. But, it was too tempting. I picked up my bag and asked her "you said San Diego?"
"My port of entry was Los Angeles and I spent a number of years in Southern California" I said as I waved a bye to her. I know I will have more questions for her the next time.
The older we become, the more stories like these we have to trade. Youth has its advantages, yes, but experience is not one of them. A few years later, I will catch up with the young woman I bypassed, and I bet she'll have some epic tales for me ;)