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Go back 14 days. No stay-at-home holidays for this world explorer. With our children far-flung, my wife and I decide to make an odyssey of our own. Like my boyhood hero Lawrence of Arabia, we shall trek to such environs as New Orleans and Santa Fe -- OK, he went to Damascus and Jerusalem, but you get the idea -- and with camels not available, we shall settle for a Dodge Caravan. Dostoevsky once said we sometimes encounter perfect strangers who interest us at first sight. I decide to put that to the test on my trip.

Fayetteville

A stop at the pharmacy leads to my first insight. The young lady at the counter politely asks my name and date of birth. I notice she has not actually looked at me. I'm up for the game. I engage her with some questions, she in return answers them, again with no eye contact. "She's good," I think, so I pull out my best pitch. "Can I pay for this along with the prescription?" as I hold up a bottle of shampoo. With the skill honed on hundreds of invisible customers, she takes the bottle without giving me nary a glance. "Have a nice day," she concludes, again never once looking me in the face. My aunt, who lived to 95, used to tell me that the older you get, the more invisible you become. Is this my future, I ponder? I give her one last look as I take the bag. On her smock is a big button that says, "Choose Wisely." Good to know, I think. Miles to go.

New Orleans

The Uber driver takes my attention immediately. A large man who looks to weigh 280 pounds, 35 years old, but on his face is a sweet smile. "Where y'all coming from?" he asks politely. Arkansas, I respond, to which he says with an animated smile: "My goodness, that's far. I never been anywhere out of the city except one time in my life, and that was enough." A few more questions reveal his one trip out of the city was during Hurricane Katrina. He evacuated with his family to Cleveland, Ohio, where they stayed four months until they could return to NOLA. "I'll tell you one thing I learned there," he told me as we parked at my destination. "Strangers everywhere, once they knew I was from New Orleans, gave me money, food, clothing. Their kindness changed me. Now whenever I see people in need, I do what I can. It's the least I can do is pass it on." We shake hands. It's good not to be invisible, I think. Miles to go.

Albuquerque

I'm in line at the drug store when the lady in front of me catches my eye. She appears to be in her 90s, using a portable walker and hanging over it somewhat perilously. She has her hair dyed a soft brown and is wearing an enormous coat that is checkerboard prints of different horses, each print a different color. I like her style immediately; she shows resilience and does not want to disappear. In her right hand is the morning edition of The New York Times she intends to purchase. Reaching the cashier, she straightens herself up and, in a sing-song voice says, "And how is your day going?" The cashier, initially startled, visibly brightens, and they engage. "Please have a great New Year's!" she proclaims as she leaves with her paper. "And how is your day going?" beams the cashier to me. Pass it on, indeed.

NAN Our Town on 01/09/2020

Print Headline: Engage, connect, pass it on

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