-Ralph Waldo Emerson
For years we have been hearing about the decline of civility - in schools, offices, even our government. That good manners are vanishing due to (take your pick) increased reliance on technology, poor parenting, cable TV, or Facebook. And I must admit that I do see evidence of this everywhere, much to my dismay.
I do, however, have one little oasis of courtesy in my neck of the woods. It's not a fancy hotel, or upscale spa, other genteel establishment. It's a chain of. . .wait for it. . . convenience stores called Wawa.** First the reader must be acquainted with what Wawa is and is not. It is NOT like the average 7-11 or Circle K mini-mart, selling mostly junk food, cigarettes, and hot dogs under a heat lamp. Wawa stores are clean, brightly lit, and offer hand made sandwiches, soup, and salads. They also have fresh fruit, vegetables, and hummus, all packaged to go. And the most attractive thing about Wawa is its wonderful, freshly brewed coffee station. Coffee is available in several flavors, with a variety of sugar and cream to enhance it. One of the store's slogans is "Wawa - Coffeetopia!"
Pardon me, my love for Wawa has caused me to digress.
Everyone stops at Wawa - business types picking up coffee and a paper, kids getting snacks after school, workers on the road stopping for lunch, and parents running in to grab a container of milk. Almost everyone is in a hurry and almost everyone is carrying something out of the store. Here is where the civility comes in. Almost everyone holds the door for each other at Wawa. Everyone! I have made it my own little game, to see how far from the door I can be and still have someone wait for me. Landscapers, bus drivers, businesspeople, teenagers, they all have held the door for me time and time again, and vice versa.
It puts a smile on my face to see people from all walks of life making small talk at the coffee urns, or nodding politely while waiting for their sandwich orders. A few years back, the New York Times did a small piece on the company and its friendly corporate culture, which I believe then extends to its customers. People seem to enjoy being there, and that is all they need to offer a smile to fellow customers.
Examples abound of the Wawa effect. One summer, after a tremendous thunderstorm, most of my town was without power. It seemed like we all ended up at Wawa to get our morning coffee fix and pick up some fresh food to eat later - the convenience store had turned into a de facto town square. Neighbors caught up on damages to trees, what stores were open, and what roads were still closed.
More recently I sat in my car enjoying my Coffeetopia and noticed a Marine in full dress uniform getting out of his vehicle to go in Wawa. He got stopped a few feet from his car by another customer who came over to talk and then shake his hand. I watched as another customer reversed her direction and also stopped the Marine. On his way out, the same thing happened, several people coming over to him to undoubtedly thank him for his service and shake his hand. If only all our random encounters with strangers could be this respectful.
One cold winter Saturday morning, I ventured in to the store at 6 am to get a large coffee and a bagel, after dropping my son off at an early morning practice. The place was empty except for a couple of workers and two men who looked like they were loading up for a day of hard labor, dressed in work boots and coveralls. Half-asleep, I managed to smile at everyone but I just wanted to get back in my car and enjoy my coffee. When I made my way to the register, the clerk surprised me by saying, "No charge - your order was paid for by those two guys who just left here. Have a nice morning!" I was speechless.
Coffee and good karma. You can't beat that combination.
**No doubt many readers are curious about the name Wawa. According to the company, Wawa is the Lenni-Lanape word for Canada goose. It also the name of a small rural town in Pennsylvania where the company was founded.