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Kate Coleman: I like nice

August 09, 2009|By KATE COLEMAN / Special to The Herald-Mail

I write this at the risk of self-caricature.

Here goes: I'm nice. And I think most people are nice.

By "nice" I mean kind, pleasant, cooperative -- virtues instilled by my mother who could instantly squelch incipient bickering among her daughters with her stern and always heeded warning, "Nicey-nice."

At my advanced age, it's a little embarrassing to be so Pollyannaish -- excessively or persistently optimistic. But a benefit of advanced age is self-acceptance. As Popeye said, "I yam what I yam."

I am persistently optimistic about people.

I'm not alone.

The Page Three feature in the Metro section of the Sunday Washington Post includes "Random Acts" -- brief, reader-submitted stories of "honesty, compassion and humanity."

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I could fill the column.

I've been on both sides of the return-the-found-wallet situation -- both times in New York City.

A guy from Queens, N.Y., recovered my friend's billfold from the Manhattan street where it fell from a cab. He mailed it to her with driver's license, credit cards and cash in place.

I had fun "paying it forward" last spring when I found the wallet of a 25-year-old social worker from Staten Island on the back seat of a taxi. My daughter tracked her down via Facebook.

My encounters with nice people are legion.

I've written many times about wonderful friends. Strangers and almost-strangers are good, too.

The grocery store might qualify as Nice Central. I use an electric-scooter shopping cart, and it's not unusual for people to offer to get items off high shelves. Others have appeared to unload the bags from my scooter-cart into the trunk of my car. A couple of weeks ago, I sat outside laughing on the apparently insufficiently charged cart while my friend ran into the store to get another. A young man got out of his van and walked across the parking lot to see if he could help me get it moving.

These acts aren't front-page news, but they surely can make my day.

I feel like a real "Little Mary Sunshine" in relating how excited I got a couple of weeks ago. I had neglected to set my trash can at the end of the driveway the night before pickup. I realized it when I heard the truck in the morning, but I knew I'd never get it to the street in time. The driver saw me through my dining room window, waved and waited while his co-worker ran all the way to my carport, found the loaded trash can, pulled it all the way to the truck and put back the empty can.

Yes, it was good customer service and it won't hurt his business. But, way above and beyond our agreed-upon deal, it was really, really nice.

I recently had a similar experience -- this time at a café in Hagerstown's North End. I'm an infrequent customer, but I'm acquainted with the young man who manages the shop. I told him, when I phoned to place an order, that I remembered he'd won the Washington County Spelling Bee when he was in eighth grade.

Then he told me the shop had just closed for the day.

"Oh, no," I said. "Oh, well."

"No, I can do it," he told me, and he did.

It might have been the spelling bee connection or his exceptionally savvy business sense, but his gift of a bar of dark chocolate with raspberries convinces me that it was something more.

Enough treacle, Kate. Get a life, right?

I've got one, thank you very much, and it's constantly brightened by the flashes of niceness I encounter.

They're as energizing to me as spinach is to Popeye.

Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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