This past month I was treated to two fascinating twists of happenstance while going out for some much-needed public consumption.
The first occurred simply enough at a local deli in the Fairfax area as my brother and I were meeting up for lunch.
It was immediately apparent that the volume was well beyond the normal, acceptable DELI level for eating in a relaxed manner. In fact, we both felt slightly put out as to the audacious manner of their deciding to crank up the speaker dial all the way up to the 11 setting to blare out the music.
But as we waited for our sub order arrive I couldn’t help but notice a reoccurring theme inside the deli. Pictures of the U2 singer Bono were festooned all around the employee area behind the cash register. Current Bono and young Bono were all equally represented.
And then I noticed the unmistakable sound of the Edge’s shimmering guitar.
Suddenly this wasn’t just excessive noise at our local deli.
This was fascinating!
Yes indeed, the owner guy must be one heck of a U2 fan. Too bad the aging rocker guy wasn’t on the job.
Only a middle aged, Spanish speaking lady worked the register.
The U2 fan must be an absentee landlord type I thought to myself.
As I paid for my deli food I casually mentioned how good the U2 music sounded. Merely for chit chat.
But I was surprised to discover that this lady herself was the rabid U2 fan.
She went on to tell me how many times she had seen U2 and how close she got to the stage to see Bono on one such tour.
Turns out one of her Uncles back in Bolivia had turned her on to U2 when she was a young girl and she had remained true to her commitment all these many years later.
This little discovery was precisely why I have always loved small businesses—the free-flowing self-expression of their owners.
The other musical surprise occurred for me a few weeks later at a Salvadorian restaurant called Los Typicos Reyes in Manassas, Va.
Only a short walk from the school I teach at, this place turned out to provide the biggest revelation of all.
I was casually reclining with a buddy of mine from work with our usual order of appetizers and drinks after a long day in the classroom.
When suddenly, amid chomping down on my chicken flautas, my ears were treated to the unmistakable sounds of Quadrophenia by the Who. The original album.
The sacred 1973 release that changed my life.
I couldn’t contain my delighted astonishment at the culture shock happening right in front of me.
This was, after all, a Salvadorian restaurant that specialized in flautas, empanadas and Modello Especial Cervesas.
Most of the waitresses spoke very little English. Sombreros and soccer games dotted the evirons.
And yet here I was listening to my favorite rock album of all time.
It was apparent that my buddy was happy for me too, as he took delight in being a witness to my own little historical, one in a million occurrence.
Soon enough, word of my delight spread to the back kitchen where the owner was.
The man waved at me and soon walked up to our table. He was smiling broadly. Knowingly even.
Sure enough, he had seen the Who perform Quadrophenia live before and it too, was his favorite album. We spoke purely on a Who fan level, him with his broken English, and me with my very limited Spanish.
And what was even more remarkable you ask? After the entire double album came crashing to an end with Love Reign Over Me,”–it all began again!
For a second round of Modelo’s, I was treated to an encore performance of Quadrophenia!
It was as if this little musical miracle was timed just for me, at this very moment and on this very day. Just the owner, myself and my delighted friend sitting across the booth from me.
For this rare happy hour, mariachi music and empanadas had turned into fish and chips and eel pie.
But the scenery mattered little. The music was universal and made just as much sense as in a Brighton Beach pier in England.
The lesson in all this is to always keep our senses sharpened and receptive to variation out in public. It happens more than we think. Just because there is a certain level of assumed standardization out in public life doesn’t mean we should also become inured to the little tiny flowers that sprout out between the sidewalk cracks.
Even the most inconspicuous McDonalds can have its great human stories underneath.
Developing a life long habit of being an avid appreciator for all the little blessings that swirl on around us; certainly pays off a lot better than any sale we may be striving for in a store or restaurant.
And while the surprises we find may not make the 6 o’clock news–they might just go a long way towards making us happier people.