Where Else But Here?

By Jean Handwerk

Jean HandwerkI am so grateful life’s consequences caused me to end up in northern Stevens County. I have never been happier, and it’s all because of the people here. Let me give you a few examples.

First, I am an occasional shopper at my local health food store. My face may be familiar, but I don’t think I’m there often enough for the employees and owner to know my name. Nevertheless, it seems to be the norm there to treat strangers and friends the same. I had eaten a meal there before doing my shopping and was told I could pay up front after I finished my shopping in the store – the honor system. That is a lot of trust, because there’s a risk of dishonest people, and there’s probably a much bigger risk that honest people will forget about the meal by the time they reach the cash register to check out. Twice now, I have done exactly that. Once, I went back in to pay for it; another time I was too close to home when I remembered, so paid the next time I went to the store. I love the fact that they expect people to be honest with them. They’ve done their part to make it a good world.

Secondly, I am not a “regular” at the tire shop; I am an occasional customer there, too. One time I dropped off my vehicle, and, as I was hungry, voiced my plan to walk to a fast food restaurant. The tire shop manager immediately offered me his truck so I wouldn’t have to walk in the cold, even though it wasn’t really that far to go, and I was dressed for the cold. Now, I look like a classic “little old lady.” I’m small-boned, have pure white hair, am only a few inches above five feet tall, and have survived more than a few decades. Even I wouldn’t have offered my vehicle to a stranger looking like me. Little old ladies don’t normally drive big trucks!

I replied to the manager, “Why would you offer me your truck? You don’t even know me!”

His reply: “I trust you.”

He had no reason to trust me. Neither did the folks at health food store. None of them really knew me. But he was offering his truck to me. So, I decided to take him up on it, just to see if he really meant it, or if he’d look nervous if I accepted.

He didn’t even flinch. He reached right into his pocket and handed over the keys to his own personal vehicle! It wasn’t a company truck – It was his own! And he didn’t even know what kind of driver I was, or how many tickets I might have accumulated in my lifetime, or anything!

Now the test of character was mine. The truck was high and huge, compared to my little rig. And it was a late model, unlike my 21-year-old trusty set of wheels. I backed it out ever so carefully, and drove it ever so carefully, and parked it away from anyone else, lest others open their car doors and put a dent into his investment. And I drove just as carefully back and returned it to its spot just as carefully. I was determined to show that he could trust me with his truck. I smile now; his trust ensured my carefulness to reward his trust. What goes around, comes around, and sometimes it’s good things, like this occasion.

Third, I hate to shop, especially in larger stores. And I hate it when things in familiar places get relocated and I have to hunt for them. So, one day at large department store, I approached one of the staff there, and appealed to him: “I hate to shop and I have this list of things I need. Will you help me get what I need and get out of here?”

“Tell me the list,” he said.

I did. It was six or seven items. In other places in other towns, I would have been told, “Your first item is in aisle 13 in the middle, your second item is in aisle 2, lower shelf, and your third item is in aisle 16…” and so forth. If I write down these directions, it often still means a time-consuming hunt. But, not only did my helper remember the list I read to him, he organized the list in his head and we went directly from one aisle to the next, getting exactly what I needed at each stop. I don’t think we backtracked once. It was one of the best shopping experiences I’ve ever had! I left with what I needed to complete a project at home, and I was out of there in record time.

A fourth incident occurred just recently at door and window business. I had called ahead to see if the company carried garage door stops, which they did, in 18’ lengths. I needed only one 10’ length. When I arrived, I was shown an exact match in a display, but when the product was pulled it out of the stock area, it didn’t match. Probably a newer style, the salesman said. But it was all he had. As I deliberated whether to spend another $30-plus dollars on a second piece so my garage sides would match, or wait until I went to Spokane, he resolved the problem for me. He offered me the second piece without cost, so long as I returned the 8’ lengths remaining on both 18’ pieces. Done! That day was the first day I ever did business there; I was a complete stranger, but he trusted me. I handled those pieces carefully so he could sell the shorter lengths in perfect condition. How could I not think to be as honest as he was generous?

I asked if he had made similar offers to strangers prior to me. He said he had. I asked if his trust was ever misplaced. Yes, he admitted, maybe once or twice in every 30 times or so. But, he said, around the area, most people are honest. He had come from southern California. Never would he had offered what he did to me or others when he was living there.
Lastly, when I go to a local fast food restaurant for a meal, there’s one worker there who knows I always order the same thing. When she sees me ordering at the counter, she starts preparing it. Twice now, as I’ve turned away from the cash register after paying, I have been handed my meal. Talk about fast personal service!

These are not isolated incidents. What I have related of local kindness and helpfulness here has been repeated in many other local businesses. Thank you, all. You’re treasures!

I moved here from the mid-Atlantic East Coast – one gigantic megalopolis extending from Washington, DC, to Baltimore to Wilmington, Chester, Philly, New York City and Boston. It’s called the “I-95 corridor” and it’s heavily populated and heavily commercialized. Here, in northern Stevens County, there’s more open space and more open-hearted people. Yes, businesses need to make a profit, and yes, employees need incomes, but people seem to come first here. I’m staying!

Jean Handwerk writes, copyedits, and gardens at her homestead in NE Washington.