NOLA to NH Observations: Nice People

I have been in NH for the past month (thus why I haven’t posted anything new). I had this great idea to write about the various observations I made while in NH and my first few days in NOLA. I was going to do them all together, but that is too long and nobody wants to read that much (let’s be real), so I’ll do them in themed posts. Enjoy!

Nice People

People always talk about “Southern Hospitality” and how Northerners are cold. Not true. I’ll tell you right now this is a blatant lie. What most people think of when they think of the North is New York City- fyi New York doesn’t constitute the WHOLE North, there are other places. Just because you went to NYC once and only encountered people who wore monotones, had their earbuds in and got really mad if you bumped into them, doesn’t mean that’s what EVERYONE is like.  It’s like being in a blizzard in Alabama and thinking it snows every winter in the entire South (fun fact: I’ve been in more Southern states  during a  snowstorm than in the Northern states). But I digress. I will admit that the niceness encountered up North and down South are very different.

NOLA Nice

Terms of Endearment:

Everybody calls women “baby”, “honey”, “sugar”, or some other term of endearment that makes most Northerners uncomfortable at first. I remember the first time a grocery clerk called me baby, she was about my age and it totally freaked me out. Then I noticed men calling me baby and I thought – please, I am NOT your baby- but then I slowly dropped my Northern preconceived notions about why people call you a term of endearment and embraced it. I don’t call people baby ever, but I also don’t cringe when other people do. For example, while in the airport (upon my return) a nice gentleman asked me “You findin’ everything you need baby?” “Yes sir, thank you.” “Ariight, baby.” And I smiled because I knew I was back in New Orleans.

Chattiness:

I find people in New Orleans to be really chatty. Out in the street, at the grocery store, in line for the bathroom at Mardi Gras, pretty much anywhere. People have no problem striking up a conversation with total strangers. Now that I’m thinking about it alcohol consumption might have something to do with it…

Ma’am & Sir:

Being from New Hampshire I did not grow up using ma’am and sir and I didn’t really get it. Then I heard a friend of mine on the phone changing plane tickets and anytime she was asked a question she would answer “yes ma’am” or “no ma’am”. It was weird to me, she was doing something so normal, why all the formalities? But then I realized, that’s just the way it is down here. No matter what you are doing you use ma’am and sir.

Helpfulness:

While working for One Million Bones I frequently carried 50lb boxes along with all my other supplies. It could be quite pathetic, we’ll just say it, to watch me strug-fest up the stairs or to an elevator, and especially through doors. I found that people (black men especially) were exceptionally helpful. They would often take the 50lb box without even asking how far they’d have to carry it. One man was leaving the building as I was entering and came all the way to the 27th floor with me, no questions asked, just helping.

Another time I had an incredibly bad day at work (Starbucks in Harrah’s; some guy who was tired of losing accused me of being incompetent and trying to steal his money…yea…right.) Anyway, I’d about had it. It was around 1am and I was sitting on the side of Harrah’s crying on the phone with my fiance and people kept coming up to me to see if I was ok. So I decided to take note of who was stopping. No white people stopped. No girls stopped. Nobody in their 20s – early 30s stopped. Only one group stopped because one of their black members checked up on me.  Two middle aged black men stopped. One Latino late 30’s Latino stopped. One late 30’s black man stopped. I was out there for about 45 minutes. It was really interesting to see who stopped, who didn’t, who listened to me saying I was fine and moved on, and who insisted that if I was still there in 20 minutes he would buy me a drink (I wasn’t still there).

New Hampshire Nice

Terms of Endearment:

We don’t use them with strangers. I don’t think that I have ever heard a grocery clerk call me “baby” or “sweety”. It’s just not our culture.

Chattiness:

I feel like I always hear people say that Northerners aren’t chatty, you can never strike up a conversation anywhere. I call shenanigans. Where do you think I learned to be chatty? I’ll give you a hint: the only place I lived for 18 years of my formative life. You can totally strike up conversations in line, with check out clerks, on the street, waiting around for things, whatever. But I do think that Northerners like other Northerners and are a little apprehensive of outsiders. (This even counts for people from a different town, part of the state or part of New England. And don’t act- other parts of the country- like you don’t like your own people more than outsiders.)

Ma’am and Sir:

Northerners (and pretty much anyone not in the South) don’t use them. Again it’s not rude, it’s just a cultural thing. What is rude is calling people ma’am or sir. A friend of mine from California told me “never call my mom ma’am, she gets really mad about it”. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it brings people back to a different era where formalities were necessary. Maybe it makes people feel old. Maybe it makes people feel like the person calling them ma’am is their subordinate and they (the ma’am) don’t like that. I really have no idea, but we don’t use it. Unless you want to piss someone off, then ma’am and sir are great to have in your linguistic repertoire. For example, I used to be a teller, and people get really mean about their money (usually when they have none left and somehow end up blaming you- the teller- for their improvident spending habits.) There was one woman who was always very surly and rude to me and when I was about at wits end I would pull ma’am her. “Ma’am, I understand your concerns but unfortunately I cannot do anything about your negative balance.” BAM! I just gave out my warning signal, like skunk standing on its front paws, watch out, I’m getting mad! My co-workers all knew what the use of ma’am or sir meant. Kill ’em with kindness right?

Helpfulness:

New Englanders are the most helpful people ever. Period. End of story. Snow storm got you blocked in? Here let me plow your drive way. Gone on vacation, here let me feed and water your horses. Mower doesn’t work? Here use mine. Need some free manure? Here take this. Struggling to move a HUGE piece of furniture? Here let me help you with that. Need to put in over 4 acres of fence and build a shed. Here I am in my shit kickers and cut-offs, point me in the direction. Drifting away from the dock? Here throw me your rope and I’ll pull you in and tie you off. New Englanders are the most helpful people ever. Doesn’t matter what is going on we will probably stop and help you, is it heavy? dirty? will it take a long time? no matter, let me help. (Please adjust helpfulness accordingly for city and state location).

The point? The cultural differences between New England and the South don’t mean that one group of people is nicer than the other, it just means that when you travel you need to understand that your norms aren’t their norms. Adapt, it’s kinda what we do best (that, and start wars).

Unemployment Blues

Since getting my masters in 2012 I have had a rocky start to adult-hood. I have gone from being unemployed for three months to getting four jobs in three days, to quitting one job (Starbucks at Harrahs…who can really blame me for that one), to having “artistic differences” and being down to one part-time job and one full-time volunteer gig, to basically being unemployed for the entire summer. My days, nights and weekends are filled with job hunting. Hours of sitting on my computer weeding through jobs I don’t want, jobs I’m under qualified for, jobs I’m over qualified for and trying not to get kidnapped from Craigslist. My time is also filled with trying to sell myself in approximately 250 words. Then there is the seemly unending stream, check that, waterfall of rejection. I feel so played because I don’t even get to sell myself in person. Then I wonder did I spell something wrong? Did I write the wrong organization name? Do I not have enough experience? All of this really begins to take a toll on the ol’ self-esteem and it can easily land you feeling down in dumps and full of self-pity.

I know that this problem is not new and that I am not alone. I also know that nobody wants to hear somebody bitch about being unemployed and I don’t really want to bitch about being unemployed. You may be asking yourself “…ok…then what is your angle?” My angle is this: as I stress and search and write and send and follow-up and cry and repeat, I cannot help but think about all of the other people who are unemployed and have been for months, years, decades?

See, even though I am basically unemployed and literally (not figuratively, oh no, literally) drowning in higher-education induced debt, I am still incredibly lucky. I am lucky that I don’t have kids right now, I am lucky that I have a supportive (soon to be) spouse, I am lucky that I have a computer, that I have constant access to the internet, that I have time to job search, and that I have good reading and writing skills. I constantly wonder about the people who don’t have these things. What about the single mom who has three kids and can barely scrape by, who wants a higher paying job but doesn’t have the time (or energy) to search? What about the 20-something year old who didn’t get accepted to college (or didn’t apply- it’s not for everyone) and doesn’t have access to a computer, or the internet? What about the 40-something year old man who just got out jail, has no recent work history, has a criminal record, and doesn’t know how to read or write- let alone fill out an online application? What about the millions of people who have been marginalized for generations and told that they wont or can’t amount to anything, that they wont or can’t get a high paying job?

This, more than my current lack of employment, has been weighing on me constantly. I helped a young mother fill out a “scholarship” (read: voucher) application for her daughter. I was dumbfounded when I realized that she lacked basic computer skills. She didn’t know how to google, she didn’t know how to type, she didn’t capitalize any proper nouns, she had a hard time understanding the directions and prompts. I totally take my consistent internet and computer skills for granted.

Now imagine that almost everybody you have grown up around deals drugs, or had babies young, or doesn’t have a stable job, or has a drinking problem, or a drug problem, or lives with two other families in a shotgun, or is in an abusive relationship, or can’t read or write past a third grade level, or has a record, or didn’t finish high school, or has any combination therein. How can you believe that you will be the exception? Who do you turn to when you have a question or need help? Who do you list as references? Where do you begin to look for a job? Where do you have access to a computer? When do you have the time? What do you list as experience?

I don’t understand why there aren’t more programs out there to help adults learn how to use computers, learn how to write a resume, learn how to write a cover letter, learn how to interview, learn how to get an e-mail address, learn how to search for jobs, learn how to fill out online applications. I have no doubt that youth focused organizations are important and crucial in New Orleans; the whole point is to try to curb these problems before they become life habits. However, where are the programs that are adult centered? Are adults not interested in these types of programs? I find that hard to believe. I am willing to bet that adults, just like kids, need to be empowered to believe in themselves, to believe that they can accomplish things if they put their minds to it, to believe that asking for help is ok, to believe that they are worth more than they give themselves credit for. Just like kids adults need a support system and a champion in their corner pushing them to set the bar higher and go for it. Who knows, maybe I’ll start an adult resources center…anyone up for a challenge?

The point? So many people take so many seemingly simple things for granted, like being able to surf the net. Realizing that so many of us are so lucky is humbling and grounding.

Shell Shocked

Last Friday some friends and I went to Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center to watch the documentary Shell Shocked about the murder rate in New Orleans. It isn’t just statistics and crime scene photos. It is about the children, the families, the community that is plagued by the most terrible disease: murder. There are interviews with community and religious leaders, students, parents of murder victims and footage of news clips, all set against the backdrop of a post-Katrina New Orleans. I don’t personally know anybody who has been murdered, so it is very hard for me to try to relate or understand what the majority of New Orleanians have gone through. I have, however, seen the aftermath. Not the bloody, hysterical, anger filled aftermath, rather the apathetic, unhopeful, broken down aftermath.

Watching Shell Shocked was really interesting to me because I am fascinated by crime and gang culture. I have seen just about every documentary on the Bloods and the Crips, MS 13, LA Riots and the like, in addition to all of the episodes of Locked Up available on Netflix. But this was different. It was different because it is the same, and, because it is my city; it isn’t some far away West Coast city that has class and race issues that devolve into riots and gang violence. It is my backyard, it is my adopted home, it is my community, it is my neighbor.

It was also interesting because these are things that people who choose to live in New Orleans know. I know that murder happens all the time. I know that most of the time black, young adults are involved. I know that the 9th ward and 7th ward are some of the most dangerous areas. I know these things. But for some reason having someone show me, formally present me with the facts, is very upsetting. Maybe it’s because I know these things in the back of my mind; that I am always subconsciously aware of. But it is different to sit in a room with people and view your city from a person perspective for an hour.

One of the most jarring things to me was the ease and calm with which the youth discussed murder; not just murder, but the murder of their friends and family.

“I got two brothers who got shot. So yea, it’s a lo- it runs through my family, but that’s the closest, my brothers.”

“I know about ten people who have died to a violent death.”

“They all died before they even turned 17.”

“It’s almost natural that you know somebody who got shot. Like, if you don’t know nobody, somethin’ wrong wich’ya”

It is so upsetting to me that this is what the next generation thinks is natural. There is nothing natural about murder. Not only do they feel like it is natural, but they feel like there is no hope. This is a sentiment I have heard time and time again. “But Ms. Emily, what you think we can do?” “Not nobody gonna listen to me.” “Naw it’s too late for New Orleans.” When I hear students talk about murder like this my heart breaks. They should not be desensitized to such rampant violence at such a young age.

But then again, what can be done? What can be done to undo generations of marginalization, poverty, racism, and poor education? I don’t have the answer, but I refuse to think that nothing can be done. I firmly believe that the first step in fixing any problem is acknowledging that it exists and opening a real dialogue about it. I believe that is what John Richie (the director) is working towards. As I see it there is a dichotomy between the way that “outsiders” view New Orleans and the way that New Orleans really is. I think that Shell Shocked is trying to show the human side of the New Orleans’ negative statistics. Like I have said so many times before, murder doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it affects all of us.

I hope that this will inspire you to purchase the documentary here. Richie has challenged us as a national community to reach 5,000 downloads by the end of July. If we reach this goal he will donate $1,000 to Youth Mentoring Connection NOLA.

The point? We need to do better for our next generation.

Herman’s House

A few weeks ago Dana and I (quick side note: while walking to Zeitgeist we ran into one of my students who was at a cookout with his pastor, who I met along with my student’s grandpa. Just goes to show you what a small town NOLA really is.) went to Zeitgeist to watch Herman’s House, a documentary about an artist, Jackie, who asks an Angola inmate, Herman, one simple question:

“WHAT KIND OF HOUSE DOES A MAN WHO HAS LIVED IN A 6′ X 9′ BOX FOR OVER 30 YEARS DREAM OF?” (Herman has actually been in solitary for over 40 years now)

Herman: In 1971 Herman was convicted of armed bank robbery. In 1972 he and two other prisoners (Albert Woodfox and Ronald Ailsworth) formed the Angola Chapter of the Black Panthers. The men worked towards improving the conditions at Angola; this made them targets for those who benefited from the poor conditions. Later in 1972 a guard named Brent Miller was murdered. By 1974 Herman and Albert were convicted of murdering Miller; there was no physical evidence. Herman has been in solitary confinement for 41 years; the longest of any US prisoner. In Spring 2013 Herman was diagnosed with cancer.

Herman Wallace April 2013

Herman Wallace, 2013

Letters from Herman to Jackie

Jackie: Born and raised in New York Jackie uses art to bring awareness and mobility to social issues. She is most well-known for her work The House that Herman Built. Jackie attended a seminar on solitary confinement, which is where she first learned about Herman’s story (Robert King, one of the Angola 3, was the speaker). After this she wrote a letter to Herman asking him what he would want in a dream house.

Jackie Sumell, New Orleans, LA

Herman’s House:

The idea for Herman’s House was born out of an unquenchable desire to share the experience of freedom. In 2003 Herman began designing his house, and entering the world outside of solitary confinement.”

One thing led to another and Jackie built a model of the house dreamed up by a man who has lived in a 6×8 cell for over 40 years. The House that Herman Built has gone on tour to over 12 countries. The exhibit consists of the model and a life-size wooden model of Herman’s cell. Jackie eventually moved down to the 7th ward, New Orleans, where she as continued her work with Herman’s House. Ultimately Herman wants Jackie to build his house in New Orleans and have it serve as a community center.

Model of Herman’s House

Scale model of Herman’s Cell

Here are some articles and sites about Herman’s House, Herman, and Jackie:

If you are interested in watching the documentary you can do so at PBS until August 9th. I strongly recommend it.

“I never thought this would become Herman’s only way to get out of prison”

The House that Herman Built

Angola 3

Herman’s House- The Film

And finally if anyone feels so inclined you can donate here.

The point? Everybody deserves to have a dream, and to have someone care about that dream.

Differences between D.C. & NOLA

Last weekend I was in Washington, D.C. for the One Million Bones National Mall Installation. If you don’t know what that means click on either of those two links. I’m not going to write about the actual event in this post. I’m going to talk about the differences between D.C. & NOLA, of which there are many.

1. Noise Level

All cities have their noise pollution: cars, buses, people, ambulances, fire trucks, second line parades…But one thing I learned quite quickly this past week is that not all cities are as loud as New Orleans. I noticed this almost immediately. I walked outside of our hotel and I said…”oh my these people are so boring and quiet”. I realized that my flamboyant tendencies were quite out of place. Nobody was dancing, or singing, or yelling, or talking to themselves. Everyone was plugged in and tuned out. People kept their eyes forward and didn’t smile. WHAT?! No random conversations? No random street performers? No slightly crazy crack heads asking for change? Even the homeless were quiet…it was weird. When students from NOLA arrived (I’ll explain their trip later) I asked, “what is the biggest difference between DC & NOLA?” Without skipping a beat one student answered “People be quite here. We’s loud in New Orleans”. Amen, brother, amen. I only began to feel at home in DC when Cole & I were walking back to hotel and stumbled upon the National Gay Pride Parade. But even that had its differences…

2. Parades

If there is one thing New Orleans can do better than any other US city it’s party. Let’s face it, a parade without beer in the street is like Santa without a beard…unnatural (& kinda…meh[insert indifferent shrug here]). I always forget that you can’t just ask for a to-go cup & mosey on out into the street in other cities. So how do people enjoy parades? -which are often filled with uncomfortable situations?…no idea. BUT, I can tell you that it cuts down on the amount of trash in the street! Oh and the fact that DC has these magical, mystical creatures called “street sweepers” doesn’t hurt.

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I’m sorry…what do you mean you don’t clean the city with a prison chain gang…well that just seems like some foolish, un-American, logic to me. Seriously though, there were like 6 of these things sweeping & cleaning the streets in beautiful harmonious dance akin to the likes Swan Lake.  No lie, it was amazing, actually better than the parade.

3. Cleanliness

If cleanliness is next godliness,  lets just say New Orleans makes a lot more sense now.

4. Understanding of Time, actually, understanding time period

Being from the North promptness was always built into my system. You weren’t on time unless you were 10 minutes early. That all went down the drain my Freshman year at Tulane when it took me 20 minutes to get a bagel before my 9am class. I have adapted over time, as mammals do, to my surroundings. I have now realized that I move at the speed of New Orleans. For those of you who don’t know that speed it’s meh…[insert indifferent shoulder shrug here]. You get there when you get there. Oh there was an impromptu parade down Decatur and you’re going to be 20 minutes late? ok. Oh the train is moving backwards across St. Claude and you’re going to be 15 minutes late? ok. Oh the bus you’re on just pulled over so the driver could talk to his Auntee and you’re going to be 37 minutes late? ok. Oh there hasn’t been a single Street Car for 45 minutes?- and you don’t know how long it will take you to travel from Jefferson to Canal? cool. NOT IN DC. There is this crazy thing called timely public transportation…weird I know. First of all, you travel underground…WHAT?! Shut the front door, I thought underground there was only water! Also, there are these monitors that tell you how much longer you have to stand around awkwardly pretending you have something important to do on your smart phone until the next metro comes….stop it, stop it this is all too logical.

5. Pavement & Street Signs

This one is pretty self-explanatory. The roads are paved & the side walks are straight & the streets are marked. None of this driving on the other side of the road to avoid a crater. Or circling the block because you don’t know what street you’re actually on, or driving down a one way street the wrong way because it wasn’t marked. (These are all also reasons why NOLA time is so special).

Basically what I have outlined here is that the Nation’s Capitol is completely functional, tidy & orderly. But it’s also boring. I missed the drag queens walking around at 3pm on a Tuesday with a Huge Ass Beer To Go. I missed the random yelling & dancing. I missed the street performers, and the gutter pu…no, not them, never mind. I missed bumping into friends at a random food festival.

I missed the community that is New Orleans.

That would be a really good line to end on, but I’m going to tell my theory on why New Orleans is such an awesome community…right…now:

It’s an awesome community because things are broken and corrupt, and the streets have no signs, but the homeless have honest & funny  cardboard ones. Because we are in constant danger, and the Hornets, no wait, Pelicans suck & Roger Goodell is dick. Because we have hurricanes, and oil spills, and tornadoes, and the lights go out during the Super Bowl. Because we have billions of cockroaches & termites, and the Mighty Mississippi is really gross. Because all of these terrible, miserable things give us something to talk about. I came to this realization my Sophomore year at Tulane. I was standing outside of Bruff sizing up a puddle trying to decide if I could jump over it, and if I didn’t make it if I’d drown. Some soaked girl ran by me trying to save what was left of her straight hair. And I laughed. I just started laughing, because, then I realized, this place sucks, yet we all choose to stay here. We’re all as insane as New Orleans.

The point? insanity + weird/crappy ass situations = awesome city community

On the Wall Part I

I didn’t used to be a fan of graffiti. I thought it was dirty and broke the rules. The first memory I have of graffiti is looking at a picture of a waterfall and all of the rocks were covered with graffiti. I dismissed it and said that it was ugly, that the graffiti took away from the natural beauty. Then someone (who was doing it to get a rise out of me) said or, the graffiti makes the waterfall more beautiful. And though he was being an ass, it gave me pause; what I think is beautiful other people might find ugly or vice versa. What I think is dirty is art to someone else. I don’t think that I really began to appreciate graffiti until eight years later when I studied abroad in Argentina. Graffiti in Argentina (not always) makes a statement or is artistic. Not unintelligible scribbles, that mark territory or some such nonsense, like we often see (again…not always).

I started noticing the graffiti and other assorted acts of “vandalism” in New Orleans. Then I realized that I have a whole bunch of really great pictures of things written on various surfaces around New Orleans. So this is my tribute to the hilarious, sad, awe-inspiring and the huh? that is written, drawn, scrawled, painted, whatever around New Orleans.

I have so many pictures that I decided to break it down by section and/or topic. First I will start off with some hurricane and disaster related writings.

“Looters will be shot–Katrina Rule”

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I interviewed various people about the “Katrina experience” for a Master’s project. One guy who stayed for the storm and lived in the Bywater told me that he knew he had to leave the City, not because of the storm, or flooding- these didn’t damage his area much- but because his neighbors were starting to arm themselves and sit out on their front porches to protect their property.

Eight years after Katrina, the City’s scars are still visible.
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The ‘X’ represents all that was Katrina: death, damage, lasting effects and volunteers. The top signifies the date the house was searched; the left the group that searched it; the bottom the number of dead; the right the number of structural hazards. The arrow (not always used) signals that there was a gas leak around the corner.

One Lower 9th Ward man’s call for love.

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I don’t know how long this table has been out here and I don’t know if this spot was where this man’s house used to stand. But I do know that this is a sentiment that is felt through New Orleans still. We seem to be a city that is wrapped up in nice paper, a sweet little bow and sold to consumers, who never really see pain in the truth.

“Piss off Isaac”

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Succinct and to the point, this sign was posted after the last not worthy hurricane, Isaac. I was driving around (when I shouldn’t have been…) and found this little gem…along with this next one.

NOT A ZOMBIE ENTRANCE”

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Again, very clear statement: we don’t want you zombies.

From the ashes and oil we will rise

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I feel like this is pretty clear: New Orleans has survived Katrina and the BP Oil Spill but we rise above it.

“Rise & Preserve”

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It’s what we do.

The point? Graffiti is often times just another way to publicly chronicle events in our lives.

Ambulances (weeohhhweeoohh)

Being from the sticks noise pollution isn’t something I grew up with. The closest thing was the sound of the coyotes in the winter and the loons in the summer. But now, I live about 6 blocks away from one of the busiest roads in NOLA; six glorious lanes of traffic. It doesn’t really bother me anymore, in fact quite the opposite; I’m totally weirded out when I go home and hear NOTHING. Anyway…this post isn’t really about traffic in general (that will come later), no this is about a specific sound that is all too common here.

Ambulances. (<–click me it’ll put you in the moment!)

I thought about this a few months ago while job hunting at Starbucks. I am sitting outside of the Starbucks on Magazine and Washington when an ambulance whizzes by. All the enraged drivers angrily pull off to the side, all the curious pedestrians stop and look and all the prying coffee shoppers take out their headphones and watch as it flies by. For thirty seconds this tiny two block radius in New Orleans is totally paralyzed to watch an ambulance go by. Then, as the siren fade all of our lives return to normal. Cars pull back into the road, pedestrians keep their path and the coffee shoppers plug themselves back into their cyber worlds. But I don’t. I think about the person in the ambulance, see this is just another day for us, inconvenienced, peeked interest, morbid curiosity, but for them, whoever they are, this is the worst day of their life. Or maybe their last. We don’t know. I don’t know.

The point? An inconvenience to you can be life altering to someone else.