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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities: Part C: It's People.

Finch with cherry

Okay.  This is not people.  It's a house finch.  But I hate a post without a picture, so there you have it.

Now...on with our tale...

Okay - let's crunch some numbers, shall we?

Knox County, Tennessee has 423,874 residents, in a space of 508 square miles.  That's approximately 752 people per square mile.

Arlington County, Virginia has 204,568 people packed into 24 square miles.  That comes up to 7, 268.7 people per square mile.  That is 10 times more people per square mile, folks.  Or, as Dr. SmartyPants likes to say - it's one order of magnitude greater.

Washington, DC has 588,292 residents, squeezed into 61 square miles, making 9,378 people per square mile.  And those are just the residents.  That doesn't count the tourists or the commuters.

And there are LOTS of tourists and commuters.

What does that do to people? 

Well, as far as I can tell, it makes them really cranky.  Let me just give you a bona fide example, scientifically culled from the vast research I've been doing, also known as "shopping."

Last spring, I went to a local large craft store here in Tennessee to purchase a couple of things - not an unusual occurrence for me.  I placed the items on the counter and the checkout lady smiled and said, "Hi!  Did you find everything you needed?  Oh my goodness, you have such blue eyes - wow!  My, you have some handsome boys with you today.  I can tell that little one takes after his mama, doesn't he?  I'll be the older one looks like his dad.  Are you home schoolers?  I just wondered because most kids that age are in school today.  I wish I had home schooled my children, but I had to work because my good-for-nothing ex-husband didn't do nothing but drink all day.  He's dead, now.  You tell these boys to get you a nice gift card for this store for Mothers Day, okay?  We just had them come in.  Can you believe they've never had a gift card program here before?  That's just crazy.  Every store ought to sell gift cards.  People love to get gift cards, don't you?  I know I do.  Oh, that'll be $10.32.  Debit?  Press that little button right there.  Now enter your PIN.  Select okay.  Do you need any cash back?  Here's your bag.  Ya'll have a fantastic day, now.  I hear it's supposed to rain this weekend, but I hope it doesn't.  Those spring flowers look so pretty and you know how all the petals start to drop off when we get one of those heavy rains..."

I never had to say one word.  This is not a terribly unusual experience.  People are generally very friendly.  They talk to you in the grocery.  They talk to you in the line at the post office.  They talk to you at the McDonald's.  And I mean the customers at the next table, not just the cashiers.

Compare that to my recent foray into the same large craft store franchise - this time located in Falls Church, Virginia, just west of Arlington.  All I needed was a button, so I ran in to the store and grabbed a card with two buttons on it, which cost a dollar or so.  I walked up to the cash register where the meanest cashier in the world was standing.  I handed her the button and she looked at it like, "Really?  One button card?  This is not even worth my time."  She scanned the UPC code, and the tossed the card back to me.  It skittered across the counter, where I caught it just before it plunged to the floor.    So far, not one word has been spoken by her.  I'm sure I said, at minimum, a hearty southern "hello."

She punches a couple of buttons, turns to me and says, "One dollar and fourteen cents.  ONE DOLLAR AND FOURTEEN CENTS."  I'm not sure if she thought I was stupid or just deaf, or if she was announcing her indignation to the entire store.  I gave her $1.15, and the fact that she had to give me back a penny was almost more than she could take.  She threw my penny at me and it hit me between the eyes.

Okay.  I made that part up.  But the rest is true.

THIS is not a terribly unusual experience, either.  People are generally just cranky here.  They don't smile when they greet you in stores, they don't talk to you in line at the library.  As a matter of fact, we recently were at the library, and the librarian spoke to me and I had a heart attack and died right there.

Then I revived myself and spoke to her, too. 

My librarian in Knoxville and I are on a first-name basis, thank you very much.

Southern hospitality...it really is a beautiful thing.  I wonder if we need to remind the folks in Virginia that technically - they're in the South?

Tomorrow...what shall we do today?