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Making "The Ask" The Right Way
March 09, 2005
It's a skill you need to have in business. And on the street, sometimes. You should know how to do it. And how not to do it.
Example: I'm waiting at the bus stop in the West Seattle Junction, this early afternoon, for the 55, on my way downtown to do an interview for a story I'm working on. There's this tall, skinny, sorta adenoidal guy at the bus stop, and that's it. Then me. But along comes this woman: mid-40s, big mop of shaggy, but carefully-coiffed red hair (might be dyed); plus poncho; ankle-high red Keds; jeans; some definite make-up. Sorta Monterey Pop, circa '05 - I guess. You get that here.
Anyway, she comes up to us two, looks around in a pseudo-bewildered manner, exhales loudly and proclaims, "I REALLY.....HATE.....to DISTURB you, but do you KNOW what bus I would TAKE to get to Forest Lawn Cemetery?"
Adenoidal Guy and I put our heads together and gave her the right answer, pretty lickety-split. She's quite thankful. End of quest.
He turns to me as our bus arrives, and says, "Heeeeeyyyy....I'm from New York: no PROBLEM asking for directions or whatever...." I agree, replying, "Yeah, ask away. Sheesh."
Now, I hate the phrase "No Problem," when used indiscriminately - it carries its own submerged hostility. But wish I had used it just before - it was actually warranted. To ask your fellow man for directions is not any kind of imposition. In fact, most of us - egotistical, helpful creatures that we are - are MORE than happy to give directions or transit route advice...hell. I'll recommend restaurants, parks and off-the-beaten-track BC Gulf Islands to total strangers if they're remotely interested. And they often are. We all love to be in the know...and share our knowledge with others who might benefit. It's human nature, is it not?
So, via this woman's unfortunate emotional armor, what we have just seen is a classic display of Seattle's anti-social mentality - masked with a thin layer of faked politesse. I can't assure she was a native, or long-time resident of the Seattle area. But I'm pretty sure she was from here, or some other lame Left Coast spot where folks assume that fellow travellers might be put out to provide simple directions.
My"problem?" I'm from a place where folk are just folk - and glad to help: The Midwest. Actually, Chicago, where everyone is from "somewhere else" and nobody, but nobody, has any kind of absurd license plate holder delcaring they're an "Illinois native," or a "U of I Grad;" as you used to see here in Seattle ("UW grad"/"WA Native").
Anyhew, if you ask for directions and get a nut or a crank, you get a nut or a crank. But almost always, you get a fellow human bean. Sooooo......don't be so damned apologetic. It only lumps all mankind into your Lowest-Common-Denominator equation. OK, Red Shoes? I'd like to say that there aren't so many tight-asses here. But Seattle - a place I'm still quite happy to live in - is full of 'em.
In parks, you sit on adjoining bench, talking to your kids, and they get up and leave, pronto. As though they'd just stepped in dog poop, or been subjected to Public Enemy on a boombox. You come up behind them at a pedestrian signal, talking, dear God, to your spouse, in anything less than an abject whisper, and they jump right outta their frickin' skin; and turn around and glare, as though you were reading a porn novel out loud; or blowing a trumpet in their ear. You walk onto the bus with a hair outta place and there's some pale-skinned, queasy 78-year-old Lifelong Resident/Wrinkled Seattle Chick in a 1974 blazer and fake pearls giving you the queer eye.
It's sick, I tell you.
Any theories why this is? Who knows? But I think that in oh-so-modulated, placid, Plain Vanilla Seattle, we need more Jews, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, and other swarthy, garlic-perfumed types from Back East. With hairs out of place, and talkin' loud. Same way back country Utah and Idaho need "cultural diversity," hear me?
I also firmly believe, as someone who moved from Chicago to Seattle in almost-mid-life, that folk who stay in their towns of birth or raising for their whole lives are really missing something. Too many life-long homies here.
Take a chance, eh? Get unfamiliar wid' tings. At the very, very least feel free to tell folks where to.....get a good pastrami-on-rye (in Fremont); or real-deal Dim-Sum (the "International District" in Seattle, if you can't make it up to Richmond, near Vancouver).
There's not much I miss about Chicago, or places like Philadelphia. But.........I DO miss obnoxious, demanding folks who insist on my cooperation. We need a few more such jerks, and a few less apologists, here in Seattle.
Posted by Matt Rosenberg at March 9, 2005 07:35 PM
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