Friday, January 28, 2011

open to change

They don't "follow" rules here. It's rather comofrting.

My new haircut, Katy's new haircut

A week ago I put about everything I own into my car and moved up to Rhode Island, from North Carolina, stopping overnight in New Jersey at the delightful home of darling friend Katy.

Now I'm sitting at the kitchen table of my new home, with my new flatmate, in a new city, a new state, with a new bank, a new haircut, a new internship and experiencing a new culture.

They say that Rhode Island has a lot of corruption. That's probably an overstatement, but there is a laxity that seems to be threaded through everything. Rules aren't followed the same way here. Driving, for example, is a bargaining game. If there is only barely room for one car on the road (what with parked cars on both sides and severe snow banks), you negotiate who gets to go through the narrow spots first. Stop signs are a suggestion, but a suggestion even for the streets that don't face them. Signalling? Optional. Turning left on a red light? Ok now and then. There's a lot of casual finger waving from the steering wheel. None of it so far has been the least bit grumpy.

I got a new bank account today, and, after some 90 minutes of chitchat and paperwork, my Banking Representative® introduced me to the branch manager. He said to make sure I be aware of and take advantage of all the benefits of my new account. I asked about waiving fees for international money transfers, which wasn't listed. He looked down, thought about it, and said ok. He said if I find I have those fees, to talk to him and he'd get them reversed.

Of course, I had just opened a lot of interesting accounts with them, but still, it's this attitude.

I went to a full-service laundromat today with my bag of dirties, asking about their fluff-n-fold service. They told me the deal, and said it was a busy day so it wouldn't be ready til noon tomorrow.
"Ah, noon?" I asked, just to confirm.
"You want it a sooner time? We can do that if you need it a certain time in the morning?" The owners squinted at me congenially, proposing.
"Noon?" I countered.
"Yeah, noontime, we'll have it ready then."

Yes, these places want my business. Yes, they want to appear friendly and welcoming. But I get the impression at the coffee shops, on the phone with the guy who runs the parking lot I use, with the waitresses and the neighbours and the grocery store check-out clerks that there is a more flexible attitude here.

The banking rep lady even took me back behind the tellers, past the area with the safe, down into the staff-only basement, so I could use the small, strange ladies' room!

A year ago I think this would have driven me crazy.

Everything is sort of lax, slightly unpredictable, up for renegotiation. Where are the guarantees? The commitments? Will pedestrians retreat to the sidewalks or stay on the streets? Why didn't that car look before reversing right in front of me? Will I get kicked out if my flatmate's landlord finds out I'm subletting the spare bedroom? And all these promised favors, will they be retracted?

The truth is, of course, that nothing is ever guaranteed. We never really know what's going to happen next, to us or to others. Every single day things happen that remind me that I have no guarantees.

I actively look for these things. It's sort of a little inside joke I have with the universe. Every single day it proves to me that I am not in control by presenting to me something I couldn't have predicted.

I think sometimes in the back of our minds we assume that certain things are, well, certain. Almost as if we were in control of this place. Heck, I can't even fully control when I finally throw back the sheets and decide to climb out of bed instead of lazing about with my iPhone.

So, every day I keep an eye out for stuff that happens that demonstrates that I'm not in control. Stuff that sort of surprises me. Some religious types might call it "proof that God exists" or that S/He is running this place instead of me.

Some days it's a bizarre piece of litter on the sidewalk -- a child's sundress on a fence, clean and pressed, in the middle of winter. Other days it's an email from an unexpected source, or a strange sound filling the parking lot.

Sometimes it's the sudden absence of a familiar item or routine occurence. 

We are always out of control, and frankly, it's pretty great.

Especially in a place like Rhode Island where it seems it's expected that there's going to be some of the unexpected. I'm going to try to relax, shrug, and wave my neighbor in the car next to me through the intersection.

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