Maybe this has happened to you.
You’re on summer vacation, driving in a distant part of the country.
Suddenly you become aware that someone in another car seems to be shouting. At you.
You can’t really make out what’s being said. Sounds like, “Hey, hotsa duengol blagen par fortescue, too!”
Chances are, the stranger in traffic is saying one of three things.
1) “I see your rear-window decal. My granddaughter goes to Whitworth, too!”
2) “I have that exact same Bloomsday bumper sticker!”
3) “Go, Huskies!”
Or perhaps the roles are reversed. You’re hiking in the Grand Canyon, strolling through the Saint Louis Zoo or walking the Freedom Trail in Boston.
Out of the blue you encounter someone adorned with some sign of Spokane or the Inland Northwest. Maybe it’s a SpokeFest T-shirt. Or it could be a Vandals ballcap.
You can’t really believe your eyes and like a thunderclap inside your head, you hear the word “Home.”
OK, maybe that’s not everyone’s experience. For some, the reaction might be, “Good grief, you can run but you can’t hide from Spokane.”
For many of us, though, unexpectedly connecting with someone from our neck of the woods while far away is a happy coincidence.
I suspect that’s also true for people from just about anywhere. But I think these accidental encounters mean more to residents of a place accustomed to being overlooked by residents of major league cities.
You know it. I know it. It’s nice to be recognized and affirmed in a spirit of kinship when you find yourself deep in Can’t Pronounce Spokane Country.
You could think of it as an Us and Them thing. Here in Spokane, two strangers might not want much to do with one another. But place those same individuals in Florida or Texas wearing their Cougs shirts and, well, you have the makings of broad smiles and vigorous handshakes.
“You went to NC? I went to Shadle!”
Us is anyone with a demonstrable link to Spokane. Them is the rest of the world. It’s not hard to choose sides.
As I said, you might have noticed this. Or you might not. But to some of us anyway, the farther from Spokane we get, the more intense the impulse to be friendly to a home girl or a guy wearing a “Tom’s Turkey Drive” shirt.
It might be nice if some of us didn’t have to go to Niagara Falls or Redwood National Park to seem especially glad to meet a fellow denizen of the Lilac City.
But at least onlookers witnessing these far-flung Spokane reunions of a sort must think we’re a congenial bunch.
Speaking of summer vacations
What do you do when someone announces vacation plans that you personally find so repellent it’s difficult for you to not grimace in an obvious way?
Here are a few ways to go.
1) Positive spin: “Boy, that could really be a time you’ll never forget.”
2) Brutal candor: “Why would you want to go there? Don’t you have any imagination? What a waste of time.”
3) Deflect: “Sounds like something that loud woman you used to work with would enjoy. You know, that human cliche you follow on Facebook.”
4) Lie: “Sounds like fun.”
5) Nonjudgmental (sort of): “Well, to each his own.”
6) Grasping for understanding: “Are the kids making you do this? Did you lose a bet?”
7) Deflect 2: “Now that’s something I’ve never done.”
8) Positive spin 2: “I guess a lot of people really enjoy going there.”
9) Offering a possible explanation/rationalization: “Family visit?”
10) Blunt instrument: “Omigod” (accompanied by pained expression).
11) Lie 2: “I’m so jealous.”
12) Putting it in perspective: “Not my cup of tea, but you would not find my own vacation plans appealing in the least.”
13) Noncommittal: “Well, there you go.”
14) Over-the-top enthusiasm: “That sounds like the best plan I have ever heard in my entire life.”
15) Killjoy: “Now if you can just avoid all the nitwits who think they are experts on that city because they’ve been there once.”
16) Wisecrack: “Couldn’t think of anything interesting?”
17) Noncommittal 2: “That sounds like a movie.”
18) Deflect 3: “Is that strictly legal?”
19) Noncommittal 3: (Silent nodding.)
20) Kindness: “I hope you’ll have a wonderful time.”