Getting to Know the Person Behind the Counter

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I ran a couple of routine errands today, and while the places I went to – a vacuum repair shop and an auto repair shop – may seem pretty mundane, the people I met at each place were anything but mundane.

I went to the vacuum store to just get a replacement belt and filter, and thought I would be in and out in a minute or two. Unfortunately the man behind the counter told me that the store did not stock the filter and he would have to order it. I said that would be fine, and so he began to take my info.

When I gave him my address he asked if that was next to Villanova and I said we lived right down the street from the college and that I taught there.

Well that opened the floodgates.

As it turned out, the guy was a lifelong Villanova basketball fan, as well as a fan of all the Big 5 basketball teams (Penn, Temple, La Salle, St. Joe’s, and Villanova). So we started chatting about not only recent Villanova teams, but teams from 40-50 years ago. He still remembered, as I do, the famous 1971 game where Villanova beat a previously undefeated Penn team 90-47 in the NCAA Eastern regional finals.

We then started talking about all the Philly sports team, but mostly baseball. It seems like we had all the same favorite players growing up, Richie Allen, Johnny Callison, and Cooke Rojas to name a few. He even told me a story about his meeting Juan Marichal. If you don’t know who he is, all I can say is that he was probably the most imitated pitcher of his day back in the 1960s and 1970s.

The two-minute errand turned into a 20 minute trip down memory lane. I’m already looking forward to when I have to go back and pick up the filter!

Later in the day, my wife and I had to go pick up her car from where it was being inspected. I went into the office and told the young guy behind the counter that I was there to pick up the 2003 Rendezvous (only the best cars for the Borden family). As he was writing up the invoice, I noticed that he was wearing  a Fitbit on his wrist.

I asked him how he liked it, and once again I found myself in a fascinating 15-minute conversation with someone behind a counter, this time chatting about exercise, fitness gadgets, fitness apps, and if you know me, Apple products. He even recommended a sleep monitoring app (Sleep Cycle) that I look forward to trying.

As I drove away I realized how great it was to engage in conversations with people about their passions. And that you never know when or where, or with whom such conversations might happen.

But if today was any indication, it seems as if just a little observation and a willingness to either share a bit about yourself (I teach at Villanova) or to ask a leading question (how do you like your Fitbit) increases the odds of such conversations happening.

And the conversations turned what could have been a mundane event into a pleasant experience, certainly for me, and I hope for the two guys behind the counters.

I  know how much I enjoy it when a student comes into my office with an accounting question, and once that has been answered, the student then proceeds to ask me a more personal questions. It might be about what it was like to own a personal training studio, or why I’m a vegan, or why I pursued a career in academia.

I get passionate talking about such topics, it brightens up my day; I hope the two guys I met today felt the same way.

So as I get older I’m starting to realize that everyone has a story to tell, or a passion to share.

And I look forward to taking a more proactive approach to finding out what those stories and passions are.

You never know who is on the other side of the counter.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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