Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Community is where you find it. Or make it.

A few days ago Susan and I stopped in our local record store. For readers who are already confused, a “record” is a circular piece of vinyl with a hole in the center. It is placed on something called a “turntable” then a needle is placed in a groove in the surface of the vinyl. As the record (also called a “platter”) spins on the turntable the vibration of the needle produces music (along with an assortment of popping and hissing noises). You can still purchase records in some record stores (they are beastly expensive these days, in part because they are made from “virgin vinyl,” which presumably is vinyl that has never had sexual relations with another record), but mostly record stores sell CDs and DVDs these days. They are still called “record stores” because nobody has ever come up with anything else to call them, and now it is pretty much too late to give them a new name. There are fewer and fewer independent record stores – Appleton is down to one – and many predict they will vanish altogether in a few more years. I have a tee shirt I picked up during National Record Store Day – a wonderful event – which features a record setting over a bleak horizon, with the words “and then there were none.” Support your local independent record store! But I digress.

We were there to purchase two things: several of the newly- remastered Beatles CDs for our son-in law’s birthday, and tickets to Cory Chisel and the Wandering Sons’ upcoming concert. Only one guy was working, and he had a situation on his hands. A customer was attempting to purchase a large stack of CDs when the credit/debit machine went down. The record store guy was on the phone with a technician who was talking him through a long sequence of completely ineffectual attempts to fix the problem, while the line of customers hoping to make a purchase grew. Actually, “line” is not quite the right term; “small, reasonably-cheerful mob” comes closer. There was a very tall young woman with a very large object hanging from one ear. There was an overweight young man who talked to himself and breathed very heavily (not because of the situation; I got the clear sense that breathing heavily and talking to himself are part of his normal act). There was the guy who was trying to buy the big stack of CDs. There was a scruffy but sweet young father whose daughter had to go potty. And, of course, there were us.

Our little mob figured out that the machine was not going to be fixed long before the record store guy did. We were looking through purses and wallets, sorting out if we had enough cash to make our purchases. Big-stack-of-CDs guy was scoping out where the nearest ATM was located. Heavy-breathing guy wandered off and returned at random intervals, seemingly unaware there was a problem. And the little girl now really, really had to go potty. By the time the record store guy gave up on the technician, our little group had reached a consensus: the father of the little girl would be waited on first.

What we thought would be a five-minute errand turned into a twenty-minute one, which some folks would doubtless find annoying. We felt like we had received a small gift, a gift of community. For a few brief minutes a group of strangers were granted the opportunity to be kind and courteous to one another, and to be patient with a flustered employee. Such moments should be cherished. And I really, really hope that the little girl who really, really had to go potty made it in time!