LBW — Learn By Watching

My Grandpa Yamada owned a gas station in a small Hawaiʻi town called Honokaʻa. He had an old car seat bench, probably removed from a car his mechanics scraped, off to the side of the garage, facing out toward the main street. He’d sit there for hours with his legs crossed with his hands in his lap while twiddling his thumbs, seemingly, as my younger self thought, doing nothing except watching the cars drive by. He was a quiet man, not unlike many Nisei (2nd generation Japanese-Americans), and didn’t mind being quietly by himself on the side. The noises, sights, and smells of a bustling gas station didn’t phase him, he’d just sit and watch. People would come up to him to say hello and chat, with none really sitting since the car seat was uncomfortable for two people. He probably preferred them not talking long, perhaps even keeping his bench uncomfortable for a guest. It was his work armchair.

Unfortunately, I never got to talk business with him. By the time I grew into my own career, dementia and Alzheimer’s was taking his mind, with us usually having the same conversations centered around me getting older and needing to settle down (another story for another time). But now after years of working, recalling his time spent on his bench now reveals a valuable lesson in my current life and career: sit down, shut up, and observe.

Now, when I visualize his time spent on his chair, I’m sure he was doing more than just watching the cars pass. I’m guessing he knew who was coming in for gas, even memorizing the days of the week and times that his regular customers come in for gas. He had a full service station, so I’m sure he was watching his workers fill up gas, wash windshields, check fluids, and service customers, and could probably tell you who hustled, who got by, and who slacked. He was probably knew a lot about his little town because his gas station was on the main drag, located in the heart of the town, and he spent hours of the day sitting right there.

I cannot be certain since he retired long before it mattered to me, but I’d like to think his success was built on the fact that he took the time to observe.

For me, I try to emulate him in that respect. Our personalities are different, with me being much more outgoing and talkative, but I constantly try to take in as much information as I can at all times. I listen, I watch, and I learn. My challenge is doing those things more than I talk, I act, and I teach. I’m getting there.

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