Flying back from the North Dakota Writers Conference today, I had a layover in the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. I lived in the Twin Cities for a brief but grand summer a number of years ago, and still feel a bit of hometown loyalty to their local chains. In fact, while passing through the airport on my way to North Dakota, I'd already happily grabbed a cup of coffee from Dunn Bros. Coffee during my layover, mentally reminiscing as I drank it about the many hours my then-roommate and I had spent at the Dunn Bros around the corner from her apartment in Loring Park, back in 2001.
This morning, though, there was no Dunn Bros in sight in my terminal, and I was badly in need of caffeine, so I stopped by Caribou Coffee on my way to the gate. As I pulled my wallet out of my bag, the college-age guy at the cash register asked me, "So, where are you headed?"
"Home to New York, " I replied, still half-asleep, but savoring the small thrill it always gives me, even after 7+ years of living here, to claim NYC as my own.
"Cool. Were you traveling for business or pleasure?" he asked.
"Business," I said answered as I opened my wallet, by now a little charmed by this encounter with wide-open midwestern friendliness--the kind that one does not typically find at, say, NYC airport coffee shops.
"What kind of work do you do?" he asked.
"I'm a children's book editor," I replied--another answer that always gives me a small thrill when I get to say it out loud--but not really looking at him at this point, since I was digging through my wallet for the correct change.
There was an extended moment of silence, which I didn't quite notice at first because I sort-of figured the conversation was finished and plus I was busy looking for one more stupid dime, and then the coffee guy said, "THAT is awesome. I ask a lot of people that question, and that's one of the best answers I've ever heard."
I couldn't help giving him a big grin then, and telling him the truth, as I handed over my money. "Thanks," I said. "And yeah...it's my dream job."
"That's awesome, too," he said, handing me my coffee.
And suddenly I wasn't half-asleep anymore, and I wanted to talk to that kid more, to find out what had made him decide to start asking his series of questions to each customer that came his way, and what other jobs he'd considered awesome, and what kind of job he might like to have one day...but there was a line five caffeine-needing people deep behind me, and I had barely enough time left to get to my gate as it was. So instead I let the moment pass and simply said, "Hey, thanks for asking," as I turned away. And while I stirred milk into my coffee at the condiment station, though, I heard him ask the next person, "So where are you heading?...." and I found myself craning to hear the answer, too. And then I walked away with a smile that I found myself holding onto for the next several hours, which is no small thing in an airport these days.
So thanks, anonymous coffee shop barista dude, for taking the time to engage a sleepy traveler in conversation, and for reminding me that yeah, my job *is* awesome, and that I'm really, truly lucky because of that. And even better, thanks for being a reminder of just how engaging and interesting all of life--even early mornings at work!--can be, if you view every person that passes through your corner of the world as someone with a potentially fascinating story to tell you.