Contagious Compassion at Subway

I drove down to Brattleboro about two hours early to get good parking (close to Interstate 91… Always good to be mindful of your exit strategy at a band march), lugged my computer bag about 5 blocks to find the only fine dining establishment that had WiFi, exquisite atmosphere…and a good grinder: Subway, of course.

The energy was stale when I walked in (felt like a black and white movie). I stood behind an assembly line of customers, and when I finally went to order, the person taking my order seemed so overly taxed by the interaction, that I wondered if it might be just easier to write it down, if only to save her the trouble of the human interaction.  Once I got my sub, I set up shop (PC, six-inch sub, chips, and barely room for my elbows on the table) and began to write.  I was intending to write a blog wanting to talk about the excitement of having some dates lined up at the Waitsfield library for when my book, Changing Your Weather, came out in a couple weeks.  I thought I would share my enormous relief over the fact that the kindle upload of my book, was going to take a fraction of the time it took to upload it into the moon sized space station of “CreateSpace.”

But then, as I ate, and I started to people watch (can’t type and eat a grinder…I can’t anyway), I witnessed the most amazing thing. An elderly woman came in (wear a sea captains hat… Why not?).  Her energy was more than a bit “off,” and she seemed somewhat confused and anxious.  A new assembly line of people had formed since I sat down.  The energetically taxed counter women looked as though she was considering throwing down her subway apron on the floor, and leaving for a permanent break… Then she noticed the elderly woman.  She signaled with her eyes to her co-worker (who was so disengaged in what he was doing I honestly hadn’t even known he was there!), as if to say, “I got this” and “please start taking the other customers.”  Without missing a beat, he filled her spot at the register.  At first the waiting patrons looked a bit disgruntled, but once they saw that the counter woman was serving the ‘Good Captain’ (the elderly woman), there emerged a communal understanding of acceptance.  Here’s the exchange:

Counter girl – What can I help you with today, Ma’am? (all in a light, happy tone, that I couldn’t believe was coming out of the same girl who would have rather have had me sign language my order)

Elderly woman – What? Um, wait a second, here… What do you have here?

Counter girl – (all smiles, and ease) We have all kinds of subs here, let me show you the list (Leans over the counter, shows her the menu. Comes around the counter and points out all the different meats and veggies as well behind the glass.)

Elderly woman – Well, give me that then (pointing to nothing specific).

Counter girl – Turkey, lettuce and mayo? (after seeing the elderly woman eyeing the turkey, and that half pointing finger at the lettuce).

Elderly woman – (completely lit up, smiling) I’ve always liked turkey! Just don’t fill it up with the cheap stuff!! (No idea what this could have meant).

Counter girl (looking down smiling; already starting to make the sandwich) – I would never give you the cheap stuff, only the good stuff, I promise!

The elderly woman smiles big. She goes to the register where a man with his son are just about to ring up.  The ‘Good Captain’ takes a step toward the front of the line.  Everyone moves back a step, while the man with the son signals to the cashier, basically saying he can wait, and steps out of the way.  The ‘Good Captain’ needs a bit of time to find her purse… Then her money… Then she’s a few quarters short to pay (all her change falls out on the counter).  Her hat falls off.  While she goes down to pick it up, the man with the son, nods that he’ll cover whatever she’s short for her sub, again without saying it so the ‘Good Captain’ feels no embarrassment.

The little boy picks up the elderly woman’s hat.  “She’s a Captain!” the father smiles, and gestures for him to give it back to the her.  “Wish I had a hat like that, I’d go off sailing right now!” the father says, and everyone in line smiles, some light-hearted laughter, agreeing.  The positive energy toward the elderly woman is more than palpable.  She takes her hat back from the boy, smiles saying something to him about the loud dogs that won’t be bothering her when she gets back to the house, and repositions her hat to its former glory on her head.

Counter girl (handing her the sandwich bag) – You have a great day, Ma’am!

The ‘Good Captain’ turns and heads for the door, which is opened for her by a woman who was in line, smiling and giving out good energy.

I didn’t stay much longer, maybe another 20 minutes… I didn’t want to miss my son coming down the street with his Harwood bandmates (which was amazing, by the way). But, I can honestly say, for those extra 20 minutes, everyone seemed a little happier.  Exchanges were easier and people genuinely seemed to be more accepting of one another.  There was now color and energy in the Brattleboro Subway.

It was obvious that the ‘Good Captain’s’ visit was the catalyst for everyone’s uplift in mood and understanding of one another. I must have taken a bit of that same feeling of goodness with me when I left because I found myself happily striking up conversation with a complete stranger as we watched the bands march by.  I even played with his daughter as she started a game of monkey in the middle with her brother’s hat.  I believe watching my son’s marching band was just that much sweeter because my mood was uplifted by the profound compassion the ‘Good Captain’ brought about in the people at the Subway… I guess compassion can be contagious.