Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Little Things For Which We Can Be Thankful

Melba and I have this quiet understanding between us.  Maybe because she and I are both "silent types".  This morning as I was grabbing a bite at Oliver's Market, in Cotati, where she works and where I live, she looked over and there was this silent acknowledgment of a brief wave and smile between us.  It all started many months ago when Melba's husband, who was a cook at Porter Street Barbeque, just across the parking lot from Oliver's, died suddenly.   I became aware of it through the local weekly, the Community Voice, but never really had an opportunity to talk with her afterwards.   Until several months ago when I caught her by herself, without customers, at her checkout stand.  I told her that for a long time I'd wanted to let her know how sorry I'd been to hear of her husband's death, and that I'd offered prayers for her and her family during the time after his death, but never had the opportunity to tell her.  She expressed warm thanks.  I asked how it was going, and she said overall it was okay, but sometimes it was still tough.  Ever since then we've exchanged silent smiles and occasional conversations.  It's one of the many things for which I can be thankful.

I spend a good bit of time at Oliver's, mostly to do necessary grocery shopping.  But, living as I do on my own, I need the stimulation of people's company, even if I don't really know them or often engage them face to face.  So, many times I go there just for coffee and to work my daily crossword puzzle.  There's also a lot of time there and at other places for observation of humanity at its best, and sometimes at its less desirable.  What has struck me over the year and a half in which I've be a patron of Oliver's is the atmosphere of teamwork -- bosses, checkout staff and baggers, deli and meat department workers, wine department coordinators, the organic products' experts -- as well as respect for customers and one another.  I've seen employees go far out of their way to accommodate shoppers.  What's amazing to me is that this is so noticeable, whereas other places are notoriously unlike this.  Example: during and after my last minute Thanksgiving shopping this morning, I could count at least a half dozen or more times when workers made it a point intentionally to say "Have a happy Thanksgiving".  It's another of the many things for which I can be thankful.

I've noticed this spirit at one other place (at least) in recent months: at the Black Bear Diner in Rohnert Park.  It's listed in the phone book without any special ad.  For awhile after I moved here, I didn't even know it existed.  Virtually every time I've eaten at the Black Bear Diner since then, I've been amazed at the full parking lot outside and the line waiting inside the door to be seated.  I learned early on that sitting at the counter was the way to go, because you can generally always get a seat there.  Sitting at the counter gives one the advantage of observing the cook staff and their interaction with the constantly busy servers and managers.  Just as at Oliver's, they each have one another's back.  When a server gets overwhelmed, another steps in voluntarily to help.  It's fascinating to watch the amazing and intricate choreography as the cooks go back and forth between grill and counter, and as servers weave in and out between the booths, the counter, the preparation area, etc.  The diversity reflected both at Oliver's and at the Black Bear Diner is also refreshingly amazing.  Employees are Caucasian, African American, Hispanic.  One can witness moments of clever humor, gracious compassion, and, yes, occasionally differences of opinion with a customer over service.  But the general atmosphere, though hectic at times, is one of even pace, respect, even gracefulness.  

Black Bear Diner is a favorite of mine because it has a juke box, and a good variety of tunes: strains of old romantic ballads and some good ole country music, most by more "classical" C & W artists, emanate from it.  It just seems to make the 7-grain almond pancakes and eggs with hot coffee go down so much smoother.  Coupled with the courtesy and good service of the waitresses and waiters, it's one of the many things which periodically warms my heart and makes me very thankful.

Little things, but thank God for them!   

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