lesson #263: the football player and the firepit


Last month I accepted a job 2700 miles away, back in my little hometown, a place that I hold close in my heart. For the past two weeks I have lived in a hotel as I sort out this commute from Seattle to Massachusetts every month. It's been an interesting experiment so far but what happened one night out by the firepit changed the way I think about first impressions.

Being back in a city I know so well to do a job that I love, I wake up happy every morning. My head is buzzing with possibilities and I'm at my desk by 6:15am. After work, I get back to the hotel around 8pm, later if I have a partner dinner. I usually head up to my room, take a shower, throw on some yoga pants and a white tee and head down to the firepit. Being a brand new hotel (open only 2 weeks), the occupancy is still low so I am by myself most nights. Curled up by the warmth of the fire I relax and contemplate the synchronicity of events that brought me back home to Western Massachusetts. Last week as I padded downstairs to the firepit, there were other people there, two older women and two young guys in their twenties. They were laughing, drinking and sharing birthday cake. I didn't want to disturb them so I started to turn around to leave. One of the guys called me over and in a deep southern accent said "Girl, don't walk away. Come join us! It's Granny's birthday!"

They looked so happy, it was impossible not to join them.  Josh introduced me to what I thought was his family.  He is a big guy, a former football player with an easy, hearty laugh and an exuberant personality. He is the life of the party, the most popular fraternity boy, the guy who can charm your mom and take you out for the night of your life. He is THAT guy. At least that is what I thought.

As the five of us talked, I learned that they were all guests here at the hotel and Josh had just met the women--a daughter and her mother who was celebrating her 92nd birthday that day. What the daughter told me next was incredible.

Josh asked 'Granny' if she had had a birthday cake. When she said no, he excused himself. He got in his truck, drove to Friendly's, a family restaurant nearby and bought her a birthday cake. As he was in the restaurant he asked if people felt the friendliness. After all, the place was called FRIENDLY'S. Then Josh went ahead and paid the tab for every patron in that restaurant. Just because it was the friendly thing to do.

Here's the thing about this story. Josh didn't tell me. He didn't brag about it. It was the mother/daughter duo who told me. I looked at Josh as they were telling me what he had done. He was just smiling and looking over at Granny, a woman he hadn't known two hours earlier. Later, after his friend had left and the women had gone upstairs I asked Josh why he did this. He said "Because it was the right thing to do. The restaurant is called Friendly's, right?" I asked him if I could record our conversation and he declined. He didn't even want to be identified by his last name or have his photo taken. Was this a random act of kindness? "No," he said. "There was nothing random about it." He saw an opportunity to make someone happy and he did it. This is just how he was taught to live his life.

As I said good night to him, I realized how wrong first impressions can be. I thought he was Mr. Good Time. It turns out he was actually Mr. Good Guy.

(postscript) Josh, I know you're reading this and I know you don't want the notoriety. Don't be too upset, OK? You inspired me. Moments like this are what makes this world a happy place.