Friday, February 01, 2008

Gratefully Deadicated

I need a miracle. Or rather, I’m requesting one.

Have you ever been to a Grateful Dead concert? Don’t you wish the whole world would operate that way? I started thinking about this yesterday when I was driving into the city from Aurora, in the middle of what would become a major winter storm. Everyone on the road was cool. I know! I found it hard to believe myself. When was the last time you drove anywhere and nobody tailgated, honked, cut you off, sent you their love via the middle finger?

It reminded me of Grateful Dead concerts, like I’d stepped into a world where everyone treated everyone else courteously simply because it was the right thing to do. I miss the Dead, but last May I made it to a Dark Star Orchestra concert and in many ways, it was very much the same.

For those who’ve never been, let me enlighten you. At a Grateful Dead concert, everyone is nice.

I know, I know. You’re thinking—everyone’s also really high. But I don’t believe that’s true, although I do think it’s what many of us would like believe, an excuse for why the whole rest of the world doesn’t operate this way.

At the DSO concert, I made my way to the bar to buy a drink and found myself in that Homo sapiens, kill or be killed, survival of the fittest mode: suspiciously eyeing others at the bar, the people in line behind them. Who was going to thrust themselves to the front, wave their twenty dollars and demand the bartender’s attention, completely out of turn? But I’d forgotten one thing: even though this wasn’t a Grateful Dead Concert—it was a Grateful Dead crowd.

Nobody shoved, pushed, behaved rudely or with any manner of incivility. The folks in line at the Dominick’s deli counter, or the ladies in line for the bathroom at the Lyric Opera should take note. At the Lyric, of all places, I’ve been cut-in front of and pushed aside by women in Vera Wang gowns. And don’t get me started on the taxi queue after the show.

As I sat and waited my turn for the bartender’s attention, it made me sad the whole world couldn’t operate this way. And why doesn’t it? Because when you expect to be treated poorly, all your defenses are up, hackles are raised and we’re in that fight or flight mentality. And in our new service economy, who isn’t tired of being treated poorly?

At the DSO concert, one woman was distraught. She’d lost her backpack. She’d put it under a bench so she could dance—it had her keys, her wallet, her “life!” in it, she said. “We’ll find it,” I told her and I was certain of it, too. “C’mon, you know this crowd. No one’s going to take anything that isn’t theirs.”

We started our search—people danced out of our way, offered to help us. In the days after 9/11, our country seemed to have captured this spirit for a while. We smiled at each other more, talked congenially on the bus, were more considerate in traffic or standing in lines, but that kindness seemed to quickly fade away. We like to think our society is so advanced, but we can’t even remember a basic tenet my children learned in kindergarten: Play nice.

We found the backpack, undisturbed, misplaced under a different bench. Forget global warming or economic meltdown, if we as human beings can’t do more to be nice to each other, help each other, what’s the point of being advanced at all? Like I said, I’m requesting a miracle. Or maybe just a more peaceful way to buy salami.

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