While driving up Santa Anita Canyon Road to enjoy a lovely picnic lunch at Chantry Flat with my wife on Friday, Aug. 7, 2015, we were rounding one of the many narrow switchbacks when we saw young men on both sides of the road doing something that looked like it could put us in danger.
At first glance these men appeared to be Mexican, were dressed all in black with dark sunglasses and were wearing loose-fitting shirts and black ball caps turned backwards. There were three of them on each side of the road and all were all looking across the two narrow lanes in front of us.
At least one on each side of the road was standing with their feet planted firmly while using their arms and upper body to pull something across the road.
Having only a second or two to see and assess this situation, we quickly slowed and came to a stop just a few feet before hitting whatever it was in the road — maybe it was a cable, wire or rope?
As soon as we got stopped the young man on the right dropped his empty hands and began laughing along with his buddies, while the young man on the left dropped his empty hands and lowered his head so as not to make eye contact with us.
We immediately realized we had been had — the young men had caught us in a practical joke. They were simply pantomiming stretching a wire across the road. I began laughing broadly and gave the young man on the right the thumbs up so they could see we thought it was funny. This gave the young man on the left the comfort to know he would not be in trouble and that it was OK to look up and enjoy the laugh with us.
A few minutes later, while eating at a picnic table, the six young men came and approached a table nearby, not noticing we were the same couple they had tricked. I stood and took up a cable-pulling stance and yelled over to them, “Hey, watch out for the cable!,” which sparked them to look over at us and start laughing. One of them said, “Sorry, we didn’t know that would really work,” to which I responded, “Don’t be sorry, it really worked and was very funny. Well done.”
As we sat at our tables looking at the young men, my wife and I noted that some people might have been intimidated or felt threatened or at least been judgmental about them, supposing that they were some hoodlums or a gang of Mexicans.
I don’t even know for sure if they were Mexicans or even Hispanic. Neither of us even mentioned their race or country of heritage to each other until I noted to my wife that some of our family or friends or others might have rushed to judgment. She said she thought they might have been Asian but it was hard to tell with their hats and sunglasses. The point is, it doesn’t and shouldn’t matter. And yet it does to many, and it can color the way we react to a situation — it’s the reason I wrote the headline on this blog with the provocative words “Gang of Mexicans” to show how we can all be attracted to sensational wording and reinforcement of negative stereotypes. Probably more of you are reading this than if the headline was “Young Men Play Joke.”
On this day these young men — perhaps as “American” as any of us — were doing nothing more than enjoying the great outdoors in the local national forest.
It struck me that the situation on the road could have gone very differently if my wife and I had not taken it with a sense of humor and recognized that it was just young men being young men, doing things that I did when I was their age. What if we had gotten mad and yelled at them or taken some retaliatory action? Some people would have called the police and reported them. Who knows what would have happened subsequently when our paths crossed again at the picnic tables.
Instead, one of the young men apologized and we all had a good laugh and enjoyed a lovely picnic in the forest at tables just a few yards from each other.
All because of the way each of us reacted and handled the situation.
All’s Fair when reacting positively
Later that same evening, my wife and I were walking around the Downtown Arcadia Street Fair looking for something to eat for dinner. While she stopped for a Greek salad, a photo on an Asian food booth showing a bowl of fried rice caught my eye. When I directed a question about the ingredients to the man in the booth whom I presumed to be the owner, a boy who looked to be about 12 years old, and perhaps the man’s son, jumped forward enthusiastically to let me know that it included peas, carrots, and chicken.
“You sold me; I’ll take it!,” I told the boy, who smiled broadly, took my $5 bill, and then handed me a fork and a napkin and even offered me several options of soy sauces and other toppings. When the man handed him the bowl to give to me, the boy said I should probably have another napkin and handed that to me as well. I told the father he should be sure to pay his fine young salesman a good salary, which made them both smile.
Again, the choice made by the boy to enthusiastically be pro-actively helpful in response to a simple question from a potential customer resulted in a sale and brightened the evening for all of us because we each had an enjoyable experience and exchange.
Two-bits worth a million
One final anecdote: I’ve had two quarters sitting on the table in front of my laptop for about a year. When my wife picked them up while cleaning the table last year, I asked her to put them back. They are just two quarters I pulled from my pocket one day but they are a constant reminder to me of the value and impact of a spontaneous act of kindness and generosity, and how most young people in Arcadia are really inspiring and so much more mature, thoughtful and respectful than I was at their age.
One early weekday morning I was at the tire air pump machine at the 7-Eleven store on Duarte Road at Santa Anita Avenue. I needed air in my tires but the machine requires quarters and I didn’t have any. I went in to the cashier who said she did not have any left.
Over-hearing only that much, a young man wearing a backpack who was on his way out the door– apparently on his way to Arcadia High School — stopped and held out two quarters in his hand, saying, “Here’s two quarters you can have.”
Caught off-guard by such a gesture, especially from a teenager (who happened to be an Asian-American teenager and I happen to be a middle-aged white guy), I told him thank you but that I couldn’t just take the money from him.
“That’s OK, you need it and I don’t mind,” he said.
I handed him a one-dollar bill, which he tried to decline, but I told him I was so impressed by his instantaneous self-less offer of help, it was worth it to me to show my appreciation by letting him come out at least a tiny bit ahead because of his kindness.
I don’t have any photos of any of these people to remind me how well they reacted and handled a situation that made it a positive experience. But I do have two quarters sitting on the table in front of my laptop.
— By Scott Hettrick