That is how I often begin.
You see, I write to people. To people, to companies, to commercial entities, to heroes, to inspirations, and to people that I hope to be friends with, and I have done it for most of my life.
I am gregarious, an extrovert, one of “those” people, a force of nature, a person that will talk to absolute strangers about anything, at any time, for any reason and nearly always be better for having done so.
I live for interaction, I thrive on conversation and feel at my best when engaged with people in personal interactions, face to face on any subject that is genuine, honest and filled with life.
It is for this reason that I write to people.
My grandmother, who I have mentioned before was every bit as gregarious as I am, taught me a valuable lesson when I was just a kid, maybe six or seven years old. We were eating in a little Italian restaurant, the whole family was gathered together, and mom, dad, grand-da, grandmother and I and we witnessed a man angrily complaining to the manager at great volume because his dinner was not up to his expectations.
My grandmother explained to me that as a consumer, the man had the right to complain if the service or the product wasn’t what he felt he had paid for. “But…” she said, “He also has the obligation to pay compliments for services or products that exceed his expectations, but few people do that anymore.”
So when it was time to pay our tab, the waitress, who had been very nice to us through our entire visit, asked us if everything had been okay and I spoke up. “The meatballs with my spaghetti were the best I have ever had, thank you!”
The waitress, who had also served the complaining man lit up as if she had been given an award! She smiled, she told me that that was wonderful and it was so nice of me to say so, and then she said, “Hold on a minute.”
She disappeared into the kitchen and returned a minute later with a diminutive old man in an apron covered in tomato sauce stains. He has an enormous hawk nose and bright, almost angry eyes. He came up to the table and the young lady pointed me out. He looked me up and down and just at the point that I thought he was going to yell at me or something, he smiled, hugely, and stuck out his hand.
That is how I met Angelo Capriatti. The meatballs were his recipe, as were most of the things on the menu and he was very proud of them. He focused on me, talked to me, thanked me for the compliment and then do you know what he did? He took me into his kitchen and showed me around.
It was an incredible experience to see all of that stainless steel, the huge stockpots simmering away and all of the produce waiting to be transformed. I left the restaurant that day with a carry out container that held six of the amazing meatballs and a new addiction; complimenting people.
I never made things up. Never said nice things where they weren’t deserved, but if I had an amazing meal or even a component of a meal, I would say something. If I saw someone with a beautiful article of clothing on, an exquisite car or an amazing dog, I would speak up and watch their faces transform.
It made me happy, it made them happy and also gave me some amazing experiences and even a few lifelong friends.
It was a few years later, when I was in my teens that I read an amazing book called Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish by Morgan Llywelyn and was so moved by it that I decided to sit down and pen her a letter. I found an address for her publisher and sent my gushing, heavy handed fan letter off to her in care of that office.
My mom had encouraged me to write the letter but had also given me fair warning to not expect too much if anything in return.
It turned out that she was right. For a while.
It took nearly three months but then suddenly one afternoon there was an envelope in our mailbox, addressed to me by a careful and feminine hand. Inside was a beautiful, hand written three page letter, answering all of my questions, replying to each of my compliments and saying how my letter had been the nicest she had ever received. I was moved beyond words and kept that letter for many years until it was lost to a flood in a storage locker I once kept.
I maintained a correspondence with Ms. Llywelyn for many years after that and we still exchange the occasional email and I am eternally grateful to her for the kindness she showed in replying to that overzealous teenager’s massive letter.
From these experiences grew a habit, a way of life, a way of looking at things that has served me well to this day and I am going to share this poorly kept secret with you right now.
Write to people.
Have you ever sat down and pounded out a strongly worded email to a restaurant about finding a bone in your chicken cordon bleu? Ever sent a complaint to a chip company because they were selling you more air than chips? Have you ever complained to a company about how a piece of clothing fell apart or because their deodorant made your armpits feel like the Everglades?
Most likely you have dropped some kind of missive bomb like that at some point, but how about on the opposite end of the spectrum?
I send dozens of emails a year. To restaurants, clothing companies, car manufacturers, food companies, writers, teachers, journalists, naturalists, to pretty much anyone really. And you know the honest truth? I have about a 90% response rate. I consider a response as something that is actually written by a human being, directly addressing my message. Automatic form emails don’t count.
But I don’t do it for the responses, though they are wonderful and I do cherish them, I do it because I feel that people work hard to create things, people struggle to add things to the story of your life while simultaneously adding to their own and I think that they hear constantly from people, telling them what a crappy job that they are doing and I think that they deserve to hear the upside of what they are doing as well.
I try to never sound mechanical. I gush a bit, because truthfully, if something made me happy enough to write, then it deserves to be complimented. I always introduce myself, describe how I encountered their product, or my experience with their goods or service and I always leave them a couple of methods to reach me back and offer to answer any questions they have.
I receive emails, letters, coupons, free products, invitations behind the scenes at museums and zoos and occasionally I am asked to review products for them and all of those things are a wonderful bonus, but the truth is that my addiction is to saying something nice to someone who deserves it.
Do it. Sit down and write to the restaurant you had the great tacos at. Tell Hyundai how much you absolutely adore that one thing about your car and how it makes you happy every day. Write to your favorite author, drop a journalist that moved your spirit a line, send a letter to a hero and then, with your heart full from the act of doing it, move on with your life.
You never know what may turn up in your inbox a few days, weeks or months later…
But does that part really matter?
Tomorrow in Part 2 we will talk about the beautiful art of sending letters, cards and packages…
Take care of each other