Much like most of the country, I have been in a job search. Late on a Friday afternoon, a prospective employer found me. He scheduled an interview with me on Saturday for Monday morning. Needless to say, I was hustling to have every detail in place before the interview — copies of the resume, clothes, appearance, plus directions.
I am commuting from Providence, RI up to Waltham, MA. Amidst a flurry of Google Maps, MBTA schedules, and bus maps later I thought I had good enough directions. I needed to attend to a few last minute transportation details as well as making sure I had an appointment confirmation. When I boarded the train in Providence, I was able to find a table so I, along with many other commuters, could set up my laptop and do work.
As the train made its way north to Boston, the small table I shared with the one other person also doing computer work began to fill up. Unbeknownst to me, the regular commuters who got on at later stops had issues with me doing my work at “their” table. A couple very well-dressed ladies never even said “excuse me” or politely explained to me that the car fills up and what the routine was. I was shoved aside and nearly yelled at. They had no patience for the fact that it took me a moment to move my things for them in spite of the fact that I made every effort to be courteous.
Once we settled, I went back to my work once again becoming absorbed in my preparations. I thought that four of us was the total capacity of the table. Apparently not. A fifth person came along — this time in the form of a very well-dressed, very disagreeable gentleman who felt that beginning an argument with me was a good way to win friends and influence people. In addition to a complete lack of courtesy, he put a very large coffee within easy spilling distance of my laptop on a moving train. I was subject to more insults while he moved the coffee.
I informed him that I had every right to be there doing my work as a paying customer of the train. The three of them then told me I had no right to be upset that his coffee was near my laptop since the table had been invented long before laptops were around. I told them that if they weren’t so old and cranky maybe they wouldn’t have problems with another person doing necessary work. When my station was going to be next I had to ask a couple times for them to please move so I could get up. At which point, I pointed out how far a little courtesy would go.
It was obvious that they thought me much younger than they were and much more junior (which is working in my favor in the job market) and one of the ladies decided to inform me that I was wrong this entire time. I simply said that I was sorry she felt that way and I walked off.
The ironic conclusion to this story is that I am probably the same age as most of those folks or five years younger at the most and I have held positions with as much status, responsibility and authority as they have (during the train ride they all felt it necessary to announce their positions). None of these people who have a responsibility as role models to a younger person could be bothered to take the few minutes out of their morning to extend a word of courtesy.
I went on to have a very good day and succeed on my interview and get the job. They went on to have a sour day and complain. If you fail to adapt to the world as it changes, you truly become old.
As a footnote to this post:
Within a few hours of writing this, the shoe was on the other foot. I was deeply involved in working on this blog at “my” table in the local public library. A few elementary school children were gathering at my table to do work. There was the usual bustle of activity and noise as they were settling down. The librarian explained that the table was set aside for regular tutoring with their schoolwork. I asked if they needed the space and they didn’t. I could have moved if the noise bothered me too much — I can adapt. I was glad I stayed. They sang quietly a couple times while working. Nothing soothes the soul as much as the sound of children singing. If I don’t role model gentleness, the children will never learn it.