an anecdote about the northeast
Updated: Mar 6
I had a profound thought on Monday.
Well, maybe not quite profound. Maybe quite ordinary, but I wanted to get your attention. Now that you're on the edge of your seat, let me share with you something I've been processing since Monday.
I'll set the scene by saying I work in retail. I work in retail in the northeast with a wide spread of people from all walks of life--high school, college, college grads, and so on, all the way up to people in their sixties. If you live in the northeast or have visited or have any idea what the people are like here, then you know we're pretty cut-and-dry. We're honest, direct, and a little anti-social.
I've lived in the northeast my whole life, but Monday was when I was re-reminded of the real cultural differences between us and people in other regions of the country. What's common among all of these regions, however, is the greeting, "Hey, how are you?" Or, if you're from western New York, you'll say in a nasally voice, "Hi, how are ya?"
Anyway, this is how I greet my co-workers when we're at the time clock or putting our winter garments away in our lockers. Monday was no exception, but I found a pattern among the answers I received:
"Could be worse."
"Could be better."
"I don't wanna be here."
"I don't know yet."
"I'm here, so... that's how I am."
If it's none of these answers, it's a grumbling noise or a weary look. Even an elderly customer I'd asked told me she was "dragging." Not one person said they were "good." No one even faked it with a smile. Do people in other parts of the country answer this way? I kinda doubt it.
Now, saying "how are you?" is usually more of a greeting than anything. It's not meant to elicit some serious or thought-provoking answer. People aren't always honest when they answer this question. They'll say they're good whether they feel "good" or not because that's the socially acceptable answer. No one asks with sincerity. No one actually wants to know how you are, and no one answers with sincerity.
Unless you live in the northeast. And especially if you live in the northeast and are working in retail on a gloomy, cold, winter Monday. I told you we were honest.
Here's the weird thing, though. I always say I'm good when people ask me how I am. In light of the honest answers I receive when I ask the question, it challenged me to think about why I don't answer with the typical northeastern answer. Am I lying? Am I being superficial?
I pride myself on being a transparent and authentic person, so this was a tough one to grapple with. However, I came to the conclusion that, no, I'm not lying when I tell people I'm good. Because I'm almost never not good.
And no, before you ask, I'm not some superhuman who's never had a bad day, or who always feels like being at work. Of course I don't feel like putting away hundreds of items on shelves for hours on end. Who does?
But I always tell people I'm good anyway. Why?
Because when someone asks, "How are you?", and the neurons in my brain whizz and light up and zap around my brain, summoning an answer that perfectly encapsulates my mood, taking into account every moment from the day, there is always at least one thing that is good.
I got to wake up early to read my book in front of the fireplace with a cup of coffee in my lap.
That plate of jelly toast had been toasted to perfection and hit my tastebuds in all the right places.
I wailed in the car on my way to work along with my favorite song by Hall and Oates.
I delighted in the pink and purple sunrise as I walked across the parking lot from my car.
My favorite song came on in the store.
One of my co-workers made me laugh.
There was an available three-tier cart waiting for me in the back, even though there rarely are.
Even on the days I oversleep and don't have time to read--the days I burn my toast or someone took the aux cord from the car--the days the sky is grim and the wind is biting my cheeks--the days the store plays songs that grate on my nerves--the days I'm standing alone in my aisle with hardly one human interaction in the time it takes me to put away all my merchandise--I am still good.
I still have a job during a global pandemic.
I still have food to eat in the morning and a healthy body that knows how to digest that food.
I am still an able-bodied person who can last for hours on her feet, lift boxes, place them on the shelves, and have the satisfaction of getting a job well done.
I still get breaks throughout the day and go home to rest when it's over.
In other words, when people ask me how I am doing, I always give an honest answer because I am never not good.