The Importance of Being Nice
Think the Nice Guy Finishes Last? Not Today.
This story wasn’t on my scheduled list today, but it happened to me just a few hours ago and immediately superseded my planned piece about something entirely unrelated. It’s a wonderful lesson in why being nice, or at least respectful, to other people is so important.
I’d taken the kids to a local retail park in my nearest, but ghastly, big town called Reading in Berkshire, UK. More precisely, we’d gone to a big retail park just outside and positioned right next to the local football ground (that’s ‘soccer’ for you Americans, although the rest of the world still steadfastly calls it ‘football.’)
The car park traffic was terrible. I’d never seen it so bad on any of my previous visits. Spaces were at a premium, horns were honking, windows were going up and down with entirely unimaginative insults being hurled around like verbal smart bombs, not only hitting their intended targets, but taking out innocent families with small children coming out of the toy shop the chaos was unfolding in front of.
Seriously, if you ever want to see human kind in it’s ugliest form, go to a busy car park.
Luckily for me, I was in no hurry whatsoever. I had no meetings to get to, no chores to complete within any particular timescale and no intention other than to chill out and relax with the kids while my other half was out with her friend for the afternoon.
Even better, I could relax because I’d dropped the children at the aforementioned toy shop where I could see them happily exploring Lego (my son) and anything pink and shiny (my daughter) through the enormous front facing windows from my vantage point in the traffic queue. They had, quite unintentionally, taken shelter from the F-Bombs that were raining down around me. And frankly I was glad. This was no place for kids.
This was a war zone.
I’d realized that the traffic queue wasn’t going anywhere, so resigned myself to moving to the other end of the car park where I knew for a fact there were some spaces. Even though they’re nearly 12 and 13, I never like leaving the kids out of view — even for a second — but a quick text from my stationery position with new instructions to stay put was immediately returned with ‘ok daddy, love you xxxxx.’
Then, as luck would have it, the car in the very end position of the bank of silent vehicles cars pulled out, literally right next to and in front of me. I was in the perfect position not only let the car out, but also to glide in to the vacant spot in one simple maneuver. That simply never happens, so I was grateful I wouldn’t have to go round again, even though I was mentally prepared for it.
However, as I pulled in, I noticed another car on the other side of the bay, previously out of my view from the angle I was coming from, sitting in the traffic queue with it’s reversing lights on. Immediately, I understood what was happening: I hadn’t been THAT lucky at all, someone else had spotted that space and was waiting for it to be vacated. Oops.
Knowing that I was entirely in the wrong and had no claim to that piece of hallowed ground, I immediately put the car back into gear to pull forward and out again. After all, I had plenty of time, knew where I was going, and, above all, it was the right thing to do. I am the proverbial ‘nice guy.’
I wound down the window to shout an apology and announce my intentions so that my fellow driver would know that their space was safe.
“Sorry mate” I shouted out with a smile “Didn’t see you there, I’ll just ….”
But that was as far as I got.
The car had four young women in it, probably early to mid twenties, and they. were. furious.
The lady in the drivers seat already had her window down and now had her head was poking out, looking back at an awkward 45 degree angle. Of course, the feminists among you may have words with me about the fact that I’d said ‘mate’ on the assumption that it was a man driving the car, but let me assure you it’s a very British ‘catch all,’ used universally when you don’t know who someone is.
She was probably quite attractive. If the veins on her head weren’t forcing her face to screw up into an angry ball of pure hatred that is.
I can’t repeat what she said but it did involve her suggesting, quite strongly, that I was a certain part of her own female anatomy, and that I should perhaps consider going away, not only quite rapidly but in a sexual sense. She was very precise on this point, providing a long list of suggested ways that I could do just that.
I’d been expecting a cheery and very British ‘no problem, mate’ (you see, it works both ways) as I pulled out of the space, and I’d already moved forward a few feet when the barrage hit me broadside and stopped me dead.
“No, no, it’s OK” I tried to shout back, less cheerily now but still focused on my original mission to move on, “I just didn’t see you, I’ll pull forward …”
Now the back window came down and her friend, who also seemed to be suffering from the same anger issues, poked her head out and suggested that she disagreed with my assessment of the situation.
Again, it would be inappropriate for me to write exactly what she said, but she wanted me to understand that she felt that I wasn’t perhaps being entirely truthful on the matter, that she also felt that I should go away in a sexual sense, and that she wholeheartedly concurred with her colleague when the former had suggested that I might actually be a part of her anatomy also. Yes, they were definitely very clear and in total agreement on THAT point.
So much so, they repeated it a few times in case I hadn’t heard it the first time. Which was handy because it was quite noisy, what with all the car engines, shouting and general chaos around us.
Now, being a man of almost 50, with proper grown up responsibilities, a usually reasonably mild disposition but with confidence gained from regularly speaking to large groups of people, it would not be remiss of you to think that I would come back with some witty repartee, diffuse the situation with my maturity and experience and we’d all laugh at the misunderstanding.
However, the simple truth of the matter was that I didn’t much like being called a liar.
I liked it even less when I was actually — and genuinely — happy to apologize, own the error and move on.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel like that anymore.
Suddenly, my ‘dad’ genes kicked in.
I deduced that what these ladies needed was a little lesson in manners.
I put the car back in reverse and shouted back:
“You know what? I don’t think I AM going to move now.”
Miss Potty Mouth and her friend were silent just long enough this time for me to finish the sentence, probably though sheer shock of me actually have the gall to reply in such a manner. I had the feeling these were ‘ladies’ who were used to getting their own way.
I neatly maneuvered the car back into the space, switched it off, closed the window and got out to the inevitable further comments questioning my parenthood and why I hadn't gone away rapidly in a sexual manner when they’d first suggested.
In a pose that must have looked like a headmaster trying to regain control of an unruly class (something I swore I’d never do when I was young and cool), I firmly, but loudly, stated from behind my pointed finger:
“You ladies need to learn some manners. You would have been able to park there if you hadn’t been so rude.”
I thought about editing this before I wrote down my exact words as I realized I also sounded like a headmaster, but it wouldn't be a truthful retelling if I did. Frankly, it’s a wonder I didn’t add the line “It’s your own time you’re wasting” as well.
It’s actually quite embarrassing. I’d become my dad, every other dad and all the teachers on the planet simultaneously. It wasn’t even a particularly well worded retort.
And I’m supposed to be a writer. Y’know good with words.
I walked off, avoiding more F-Bombs sent indiscriminately my way, but missing their target and bursting instead in the faces of young families with full force, causing their parents to ‘tut’ and shield the ears of their offspring.
I marched into the toy shop to the innocent smile of my daughter who grabbed my hand and took me to show me the new slime sets she’s seen, completely oblivious to the verbal carnage occurring outside. I kept one eye on the ladies in the car, still stuck in the traffic with nowhere to go, in case they decided to exact revenge on my unarmed vehicle.
And, as my kids and I walked round the store, hand in hand, admiring various displays and adding things to their wish lists for the future, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d done the right thing.
But then I reassured myself.
Hell yeah, I did.
If you need a counter story to remind you that there are actually also some very lovely people in the world, try this one:
The Kindness of a Stranger
When you’re not the one paying it forward. A feel-good true story.
If you would simply like to laugh at my idiocy, try this one:
How to fail in a reality TV audition
How I managed to get an audition for ‘Blind Date’ … and then blow it.
If you would like to know how much difference a simple kind act can make, try this one: