My generation grew up with the Sesame Street song “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” which was ultimately answered “They’re the people that you meet each day.” I’ve realized that I, too, have people who I meet each day, and they form my own personal neighborhood within this large city.
The first person I usually speak to in the morning is Trina, who works at the front desk of my apartment building. As I’m on my way out, she never fails to greet me with a smile and a “Hi Sweetie,” or “Hi Babe! Have a good day!” I always feel that interaction gets my day off to a good start, and I look forward to those brief exchanges.
As I’m heading to the Metro, I walk by a synagogue that has several security guards who have become familiar faces. Our morning “hellos” have become daily comments about the weather, and I enjoy sharing observations about a pretty day or trading admonishments to stay warm, stay dry, stay cool, or whatever is appropriate. I think my favorite part of these greetings is that after more than six months of trading greetings, their smiles seem a little bigger and their eyes are a little more twinkly when they see me. That’s probably because my own smile is bigger when I greet someone who has become a familiar part of my day.
My next morning greetings are at the street-level entrance to the Metro. As I round the corner to head down the stairs to the trains, there is a man standing there handing out free copies of the Metro daily newspaper. He always wears a red hat, although sometimes he layers on two hats when his favorite sports team is playing an important game. He’s lately traded his red knit cap for a red baseball cap, and I’m glad that his signature has stayed the same. He usually has a companion who is also handing out newspapers, but although the second person has varied, Mr. Red Cap has stayed constant. He greets all comers, “Have a good day, everybody!” but I always look him in the eye and give him an extra big smile. Happily I have thus far managed that maneuver without pitching myself down the stairs of the Metro, so that’s an extra bonus.
Having stuck my nose in a book for the 10 minute Metro ride, I arrive in Union Station and join the flow of staffers making their ways to numerous offices on Capitol Hill. When the sequester hit, the Capitol Police had to deal with budget cuts along with everyone else, and as a result, a number of the entrances to my building were closed or are open for reduced hours. We had no warning for the first day of the entrance restrictions, so we were unprepared for the waits of up to 45 minutes to get through security. The frustration of the “sequester lines,” as in emailing “I’m stuck in a sequester line- please tell my first meeting I’m running late,” is why I’ve grown enormously fond of the two security guards at my usual entrance.
My entrance is Staff Only until 10 AM, which makes sense since staffers who pass through security every day learn to expedite the process compared with people who only go through occasionally. As a result, when the occasional staffer forgets to remove a cell phone from a pocket and beeps the security arch, he or she may encounter some good natured ribbing from the guards of, “What were you thinking? Well, just don’t let it happen again.” I’ve also learned to arrive a bit before 9 AM to beat the crush of people. On mornings when the people in line share the silence born of not having consumed sufficient coffee yet, the guards will often make comments about “it must be Monday- everyone is so quiet!”
More recently, I started to hear the two guards commenting, “The door’s open….the door’s still open!” I initially thought that they wanted the last person in line to close the door since it was cold outside, but then I understood that they had challenged each other to keep the line moving swiftly enough that the line would not be long enough to go out the door. Indeed, with the guards’ facilitation, staffers hesitate less before going through the magnetic arch, and the whole line moves much more rapidly than usual. I went out of the building at lunch several weeks ago, and since there was no one waiting to pass through security, I told the two guards that one of the Fellows in my office wanted to be their “door groupie” and would be willing to go to a different entrance if she knew they would be there to keep the line moving. The two men thought it was great fun, and now they both give me smiles of recognition when I come in.
Then work starts, and I don’t think about the people in my neighborhood until I return home late in the evening to be greeted by Mary, who staffs the front desk of my apartment building until 11 PM. It’s a pleasure to be welcomed home by someone who seems to care that I’m there, especially in a big city. As the song often sings in my head, “These are the people in my neighborhood… they’re the people who I meet when I’m walking down the street, they’re the people who I meet each day!”
For the uninitiated, here’s the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2bbnlZwlGQ