Wordy Thirty

An abbreviated list of things I’ve discovered in my first week of my fourth decade. With not-so-abbreviated explanations.

I don’t hate olives.

Ask me a mere 8 days ago, and I might have told you a different story. But sitting on the back patio in Denver last week, day drinking with friends and daydreaming about future vacation spots, I decided what the heck, I’ll try one, when Sean brought out a small bowl of maroon-colored olives to complement our fine snacks of cheese and Cheez-Its. So I tried one. The day-drinking patio is a safe space in which to try new things.

Guess what? I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it, either, but I figured that maybe now’s a good time to reevaluate those things that I dislike simply because I’ve always disliked them. Who knows when I’ll stumble upon a new favorite.

Later in the weekend, we went to this bar that’s hidden speakeasy-style behind a “pie shop” and features adorable be-vested or be-suspendered waiters. You can also order a drink “Bartender’s Choice,” where you tell him what you like, he asks a few questions and then brings you a delightful concoction based on your particular taste. (Folks.) First I asked for a twist on a Manhattan. Yum. Next round, he asked if I liked “herbaceous” drinks. (Charlie what now?) But I said, sure, lets find out. And guess what? Turns out I do like drinks with a little fresh, herby flavor. I can’t remember all the unusual ingredients well enough to ask for it again (one was “spiced green tea syrup”), but I at least have an affirmative answer the next time a cute boy in a vest asks me whether I like herbaceous things. So that’s a win.

Live music is so good!

Okay, this isn’t a revelation. More of a reminder. Birthday night was spent seeing Portugal. The Man and The Avett Brothers at Red Rocks, the venue that makes all other venues feel like a sad church basement. In my early 20s, I would not have described myself as a “music show person” — to be fair, my experience was limited to either megastars in giant arenas or cramped, loud spaces with local bands I didn’t know well. I hadn’t even begun to define my music taste then, either. Keep in mind: there was no youtube, and iTunes was brand new. Dave Matthews Band was in heavy rotation.

But now, I love a good concert. I was a just-okay fan of the Avetts when I saw them for the first time last year in Springfield, but their show won me over. Just so much energy and cool old-fashioned harmonies and, kid you not, rocking-out hot sex on the banjo. (haha that’s funny. but seriously.) Again they did not disappoint this 5th of July. In the clear and crisp Colorado air. With 10,000 people. Surrounded by nature. Under the stars. I suppose it’s hard not to be wowed.

I like my job.

My flight back home on Monday was delayed, and I missed my connection to Branson. I’ve never had that happen before, but I did get a voucher and a free night in Dallas (at an airport hotel with a liquor store next door. Not the worst place to be stranded). While I waited outside the airport for the hotel shuttle, another rent-a-car shuttle pulled up in front of me. I didn’t think anything of it until the driver opened the door and started talking to me. I had to ask him to repeat himself three times, between the heat and the changed plans and his thick accent, I was a little thrown off. Once I finally figured out he was saying, “want to step inside and get some of this cool air?” I was close enough to the door that it felt silly to refuse. So I hopped up and we chit-chatted until my van arrived, and he offered me his hand all southern-style to help me off his shuttle. Too cute. And weird. But mostly cute.

For my return flight the next day, I had the choice between 6:30 a.m. and 2:30 in the afternoon — and, without hesitation, I asked for the early one. This goes against my natural tendency against morning-person-ism, and the natural tendency of most humans to prefer days-off to days-in-the-office. So I guess I really do like my job. This one still feels like a revelation, though I’ve felt it since I started working here last September. Not so bad to be reminded at the end of vacation.

I am braver than I used to be.

“Brave.” This has been my mom’s go-to descriptor of me lately, in reference to selling my house and traveling alone, and it makes me laugh. I certainly don’t feel all that brave. (I’ve only been skydiving once, after all.) But I know for sure I’m braver than I once was. I’m no longer afraid to talk to strangers. And I’m more able to overcome my fear of embarrassment when my gut tells me to try something a little scary, even if that scary thing is something potentially good. (My gut would be fighting my gut in this case. Not unlike the strong desire to, and inevitable aftermath of, eating Indian food.)

Here’s a story: I was in line at Target earlier this week, when I noticed the couple in front of me fiddling with their purchases and trying to determine items to leave behind so their total would fall within their prepaid card balance. The cashier ran the card, and the $20 balance wasn’t enough. They pulled another item out of a bag, and it took. But their balance was $20.90-something, so they rustled through wallets and pockets to find change. I was kicking myself for not having any cash — I would’ve just handed them a dollar. But I couldn’t.

Now before we go further: this level of people-watching is not unusual for me. Being a writer and an improviser teaches you to study people. And it’s also just been a thing I’ve always done, curiously observe and often take an interest in strangers. But this next part is not a thing I would’ve always done, though I certainly would’ve thought about it.

The couple finished their transaction, and the woman turned to me and apologized. I told her not to worry, and went on with my transaction. I looked at my little pile of items, made up of both needs and wants, but certainly some not-needs, like a 6-pack of beer for my Mystery Hour writer’s meeting that night. After I swiped my Target card and headed toward the door, I spotted the couple from before sitting in the Starbucks area. “Do something!” my gut quietly pleaded. I’d heard about people paying for the people behind them in drive-thru lines and what not. These stories are always lovely. But random acts of kindness are also scary when you are the person doing the randomness. What if they’re offended? Embarrassed? (Both likely.) Or what if they’re actually well-off and just left their credit card in their other jeans? (Less likely.)

No matter the what-ifs, I couldn’t fight the urge to go back in. So without thinking too much, I dumped my stuff in the car and then marched back inside to grab a gift card, spotting the couple still sitting there, praying they wouldn’t leave. I paid for it in the Pizza Hut line at the front of the store, the girl behind the counter struggling to ring it up correctly. (The drama!!) And then I walked over and gave it to the couple. Just saying it seemed like they might need some help, and I felt like I should help them, and I hoped they weren’t insulted, because I didn’t know their circumstances, and I didn’t need to.

Was it awkward? Oh my, yes.

Was it worth it anyway? Oh my, of course.

I don’t tell this story to pat myself on the back for my charity. Because, come on, I understand that a Target gift card isn’t life-changing. But maybe it’s day-changing — and that makes it worth doing. And I have a feeling that a lot of us feel those gut-impulses, and a lot of the time we ignore them because we don’t want to do something embarrassing or weird.

All I can say to that is: maybe sometimes take the risk of feeling weird. I promise you’ll survive it, and afterwards you’ll probably feel pretty good. Grateful. Content. Even — though this word is overused in social media to a nauseating degree — blessed.

So, yeah. Thirty’s not so bad. Here’s to trying the olive. Saying “okay” to the nice stranger. Doing the scary good thing. Braver times (and tasty drinks) ahead.