The World Needs More Garys

Company Culture, Opinions Posted Mar 22, 2017 by chenpr

Last year I introduced you to Gary, the guy who sells me Boston’s street paper Spare Change News.

All through this stubborn winter I’ve been cheered and buoyed by Gary’s smile and unwavering optimism. Whether at his regular afternoon corner at Congress and Hanover, or during chance encounters elsewhere in the Downtown Crossing/Haymarket neighborhoods as we both move through the city, a conversation with Gary is always welcome.

uss-kitty-hawk-cv63During one recent chat he mentioned something about his time in the service and recalled being aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. I knew Gary had served, but I didn’t know he was a sailor.

“You were on the Kitty Hawk? I was in a bomber squadron on the USS Coral Sea,” I told him.

We spent the next while laughing over stories of our time and hijinks at sea. Gary recalled one drill at sea when he told his division officer that he couldn’t swim.coral sea

“How’d you get through boot camp without swimming?” I asked him.

“The instructor said he’d hold me up, so I jumped in the pool and that was it,” he laughed.

The Shitty Kitty was headed for port at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and after arriving Gary and a handful of his shipmates were assigned swimming lessons. “I spent my days in the pool and my nights at the beach!”

When I hit the fleet I got sent to a brand new squadron stationed at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach. The Coral Sea was in the yards at Newport warhorse mugNews getting work done so that she could take on the first of the Navy’s new F/A-18 Hornets. During our first time at sea for trials and workups we encountered a large storm offshore from the Carolinas. I don’t know exactly how far it was from the Coral Sea’s flight deck to the waterline, but 50 feet is about right, and during that storm I watched on the operations monitor as waves broke over our bow.

It was rough; we were rocking and rolling. A lot of the crew were having trouble finding their sea-legs. Surprisingly I was not among them and so for a solid week getting through the chow line was a breeze. Hot food, large portions and no waiting!

While we reminisced a young man who had obviously gotten an early start with whatever he was celebrating that day got splashed by an MBTA bus as it approached the intersection to stop for a red light. The kid started shouting obscenities at the driver and banging on the door with an open hand. Gary, who saw the situation unfold before I did, spoke up and got the man’s attention.

“What’s wrong? You okay?” he said with a voice that conveyed genuine concern.

The man showed us his wet pants and continued to file his protest, but as he did the look on his face and the tone of his voice softened.

“I know, man. Happens all the time. They can’t do anything about it.”

The bus pulled away. The man stayed. It was a bad day made worse by a puddle.

“It’ll be better tomorrow,” we told him.

Gary stuck out his hand and the man obligingly shook it.

“I hope so,” he said, then continued down the sidewalk.

It would have been easy to laugh at the man’s expense—or to ignore the situation completely. Gary’s empathetic response, however, defused a situation that could have resulted in a frustrated man in a vulnerable state of mind making a bad decision. What a wonderful gift.

Whenever I linger with Gary for more than a few moments someone who passes is recognized and gets a smile and a kind word. It makes a difference. The world needs more Garys.