Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Happy Seeds

I know for a fact that Disneyland is not the happiest place on earth. Face it, after about 1 p.m. on any given day, it’s the stickiest, crankiest, most “shut up and have fun, we're paying for this, dammit" place, just saying.

Until last week, I had thought the happiest place on earth was the sno-cone line at the annual Tangletown Fourth of July post-parade picnic, held at Fuller Park in Minneapolis. For the past several years, my family has volunteered to staff the sno-cone booth, and we've discovered that people seem congenitally unable to frown while they are waiting for a sno-cone, even when they are waiting in a long, long line, like the year the very nice but somewhat shaky-on-the-motor-skills senior citizen begged for a chance to “help out,” and ended up tossing more cones in the bushes than delivering them to parched citizens. “That’s okay,” people would say, kindly. “I can wait.” And then they did. While smiling.

Are these the same people who honk if I’m two seconds late going at the green light at Nicollet and 34th, when I’m still in a post-yoga haze? Seems like it. Sno-cones just do something to make people happier, and, it seems, more patient. But last week, I found something that has a more powerful effect on even the most winter-battered psyches, and it was in the last place I’d ever suspect.

As a freelancer, I work at a lot of different companies, and I see a big variety in corporate styles, from “is the nerf gun war before or after that client meeting?” to “here’s your grindstone, there’s your nose, you know what to do.” I find that companies which make an actual product – cars, pharmaceuticals, agriculture – tend to be more serious-minded than the folks who trade in a life of ideas (and nerf guns), but I like the way my work allows me to mix it up and see all the ways that people get things done for a living.

Last week, I was at one of my more serious-minded customers (read:  they actually make something), there to help with a quarterly meeting. A contact at the headquarters had sent me a big box of vegetable seeds, and I thought it might be nice to distribute them after the meeting, so I set up some piles of watermelon, lettuce, corn and tomato seed packets on a back table.

When the director who runs these meetings arrived for his mic check, I asked if he’d be willing to make an announcement about the seed packets. “What kind of seeds?” he asked, visibly brightening, and when I told him I had lettuce back there, he made a quick detour before starting his presentation. “I love fresh lettuce!” he said, reading the back of the packet with such a non-serious-guy look on his face. It was a look I was about to see a lot more of, because after the meeting wrapped up, he made a charming announcement about growing together, starting now, and encouraged people to pick up some seeds in the back of the room.

I have sat through a lot of corporate meetings in my time, at many different companies. No one leaves these things with a spring in their step, let me just say. When the guy in charge dismisses everyone, there tends to be a moment of collective thought-gathering, followed by a general shoulder slump, as everyone realizes that yet another hour has gone by, along with a recollection of all the work that needs to be finished before the end of the day.

But at this meeting, people jumped out of their chairs right away. They quickly formed a tidy queue for the table in the back, and they were, I noticed, chattering happily with each other while they waited. Up at the table, confessions were being made, advice being asked, bonds formed. “I just don’t have enough sun!” “Do you promise that I can grow these in a container?” “I always kill tomatoes!” “If I end up with too many zucchini, will you take some off my hands?” 

Even after people had gotten their seeds, they stayed in the room, in cocktail-party-ish clumps, but with seed packets where the cocktails might have been. I’ve observed these very same folks when we have celebratory cake and punch after special events, and they’re contented enough to get a mid-day sugar fix, but this was something different.

And it went on for the rest of the day. I saw people carrying their seeds into conference rooms, looking for some advice from green-thumb colleagues before they had to dig into the agenda. As I was leaving, I ran into a woman on the stairs, and she had her packets sorted into a definite upright and sideways system. “I’ve been upstairs asking around,” she told me, “And these sideways one are going to go on my back patio, because someone told me I could use string instead of a tepee for the pole beans. And these,” she said, shaking the last packet, “I’m putting right outside my patio door, so I can pick tomatoes for lunch.” The thought practically seemed to make her swoon.

I can’t think of anything else I could have handed out that would have lightened people’s moods so significantly. Free cars for everyone? You’d just have to buy insurance. Cash? You’d spend it at the grocery store on the way home. But seeds? These were little packets of potential summer, delivered on the first nice day of spring after a very, very long winter. They were nothing but possibility, and it turns out that’s what people in these parts really, really needed. We may not have been the happiest place on earth when it was snowing on us in April, but there, for a moment in a corporate conference room last week, I believe that we honestly were.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this! Even coupons for watermelon didn't bring about this result! ;-)