By Noah Kutz
“So are you a Corona guy?” He asked me as if we’d known each other for years and were just catching up. “No,” I replied, “I’m not 21 so I don’t drink beer yet.”
Don Kirkland, of course, was curious if I’d recently graduated from Corona del Sol High School. I, on the other hand, was apparently more familiar with the imported beer than I was the school, and we both laughed at the misunderstanding that occurred there at Great Harvest Bread as I prepared his order.
My first encounter with the folks from Wrangler News still gives us a chuckle, but the feelings of hilarious reminiscence have slowly turned to a reflection on the various interactions I’ve had with local people as I finalize my departure from the paper.
I had worked at the South Tempe bakery for several months before I met the local newspaperman that day.
We were familiar with all of our regular customers, but nobody seemed to relate to the Walstons and their employees with more bountiful neighborliness than Don.
If accompanied by friends or fellow newspaper people, they seemed to be numb to his severe case of friendliness and his tendency to walk into the back of the bakery and shout greetings at the staff.
Eventually, I left Great Harvest and began to work for Wrangler, realizing that those types of exchanges usually occurred on a daily basis. I slowly made the transition from bread boy to newsie and established great relationships there in the office with Don and Joyce, who quickly became my second family.
We traveled all over South Tempe and West Chandler, and I witnessed their involvement with the community, from meetings with local businesses to random encounters with old friends at the library — all of which seemed to be brimming with nothing less than true neighborly love.
Working for the local paper (specifically, working for Don and Joyce), has made me realize the importance of cultivating strong relationships with our neighbors on a daily basis.
I sold bread at the Uptown Farmer’s Market most weekends while I worked for Great Harvest. My weekly interactions with the regular shoppers and farmers usually involved talking about the weather and how the Cardinals will be better next season, which I secretly hated because it seemed so painfully mundane and simple.
Now, I realize that those conversations turn complete strangers into friends, and those relationships are what make the world go round.
I noticed after working for Wrangler News for a little while that my way of interacting with strangers became much more relaxed and friendly.
Just as I felt when Don treated us this way at the bakery, people tend to be a little shocked when someone they’ve never seen before greets them as if they’ve known each other for years.
Those interactions, I would argue, will only ever happen on a local basis and have never been more important in our world today.
Something so small that it can’t be seen by the naked eye has turned the globe upside down and catapulted everything into chaos, to the point where even a handshake is seen as a threat to safety.
While we must respect others’ safety, I can think of something that’s even more contagious than the coronavirus: neighborliness and courageous friendliness.
Working for these local establishments over the years has taught me that treating strangers as if they weren’t strangers at all is something that must be preserved and exploited in our everyday interactions, and if we forget that fundamental element of being a loving neighbor, then COVID-19 wins.
Over two years ago someone I’ve never met before asked me if I’m a Corona guy, and his neighborly manner caused me to mistakenly believe that he just wanted to share a beer.
Although I believe that asking someone the same question in today’s climate might have a completely different meaning, I look forward to the time when we can all share a drink together.
For now all we can do is be good neighbors to each other— six feet apart, of course.