I was in southwest Ocala last Wednesday for an appointment. When it was over I had 90 minutes to kill before I was scheduled to interview a man in the northwest part of town. I stopped inside the Hardee’s at State Road 200 and Southwest 60th Avenue. I found a table, set up my laptop, hooked up to the free Wi-Fi, and munched a burger while catching up on some writing and editing.
That Hardee’s is inside a convenience store/gas station. The store’s front door was barely closed during my lunchtime visit. Someone was always coming and going.
The air outside was too hot to breathe, and I pitied the multiple lawn maintenance men who stopped in to pay for fuel. One man rode his mower right up to the pump outside. I didn’t know you could do that.
Another man wore a fluorescent green shirt with the lawn company’s name and logo. A boy walked beside him. He was 10 or 11. He must have been the man’s son. The boy wore an identical shirt, albeit several sizes smaller than dad’s.
Poor kid. What a way to spend the last day before school started. Then again, he looked perfectly happy. And why not? He was with his dad, and they left with a pack of cola.
I remember going to my dad’s office when I was a little older than that kid. I loved it. I also worked a few teen summers as a lawn maintenance man. I loved that, too. That was in Illinois. I thought those summers were hot. Now I’m in Florida and I know from hot.
An older couple sat behind me. She was imploring him to try a bite of her Hardee’s sandwich. No, he said, I have too much on my plate as it is. She insisted. He demurred. I glanced over. She had the same kind of sandwich I did. The guy should have taken the offer. It was a good burger, the kind with bacon and tomato and Swiss cheese on sourdough bread.
A man and a girl, maybe 13, sat near me. A Hardee’s worker brought her barbecue sauce, which apparently had been forgotten at the counter. Or maybe the girl was given the wrong kind. I’m not sure.
The worker apologized earnestly. The girl was gracious and polite. This scene, which played out behind my back, made me very happy. This was not exactly the Ritz, but the manners were five-star.
A man was sitting at the table in front of me. A woman was rushing out of the store. They glanced at each other. They recognized each other. She paused in the doorway.
Hi, she said. How is retirement? Good, he said. They worked at the same place. I don’t know where. But wherever it is, something maddening is happening there. He expressed sympathy. She gave him one of those “what can you do?” looks and bid farewell.
A man was leaving the store. Another man, engrossed in cellphone conversation, was approaching the store. The departing man held the door open. The approaching man never looked at him, let alone thanked him, as he breezed into the refrigerated air.
Those manners were zero-star. No Ritz visit for you, Mr. Cellphone. Not even a Ritz cracker.
A mom with kids came in. They left moments later with foam cups of soda. They must have asked, unsuccessfully, for food. Why are you kids always hungry after we leave the house?
How many moms have asked that question through the years? And how many, just like this mom, had drawn the line at Coke?
A few weeks ago, beachgoers in the Panhandle formed a human chain and saved some drowning people. It was a wonderful story, and the rescuers deserve all the credit and applause they received.
But it bothered me when people said that the heroism restored their faith in humanity. Oh, our society is so wretched, some commentators said. Isn’t it incredible to see that people are still capable of being good?
That episode did not restore my faith in humanity. I never lost my faith in humanity.
If you have, then let me recommend the middle, window-side table at the Hardee’s on SR 200 at Southwest 60th Avenue. Have a burger. And have a good look. People are still people: mostly kind, mostly industrious, occasionally rude or perhaps just distracted.
Life goes on. And it is utterly, beautifully, reliably ordinary.
Contact Jim Ross at 671-6412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jimrossOSB