I was meeting a friend and colleague for lunch today at Liluma, a favorite restaurant in the Central West End. I was early so I asked for a table outside along the sidewalk. As I waited for my friend, my attention was drawn to the man who ran the newsstand on that corner. First, I noticed that he spoke to just about everyone who walked by his stand. These were not sales interactions. They were warm greetings with a smile, sometimes a handshake. Often he would step out of the boundaries of the stand to talk a little bit. He seemed to know many of those who passed by and joked with folks. And then there were the dogs! People with dogs came by and the dogs seemed to know to go to a particular side of the newsstand, where they waited for him to reach into his can of dog biscuits. He would make sure they ‘sat’ for their treat while carrying on a conversation with their person.
Then the moment came that truly got my attention. A city bus pulled up and honked. The newsstand man ran over and met a man with a white cane coming down the bus steps. They greeted, as the man took his arm, and then our newstand man led him across the street and down to the bank. About that time, my waiter approached and I commented on the interactions I had been watching. He told me that the guy at the newsstand cares for everyone in the area; that the bus drivers know to honk when they have someone who could use some help. Elders and those who are differently abled in some way are often aided by the newsstand man.
It had been a while since I had eaten at this restaurant and the newsstand was not there before. What occurs to me is that this particular corner in the city feels different now. People are more interactive, more open to each other. I believe it has to do with the newsstand man. So simple, yet so profound. Someone who spends his days building relationship with the people who pass by a certain corner has the power to create of those people a community. What about us and our corners? What can this urban hospitality do to transform a city?