Common Courtesy, Frozen Custards, & Fonzie!

You can spot them a mile away.  You may not be able to make them out completely, but you just know one when you see it, even from a distance.  In Albuquerque, where I’m visiting, there seem to be a lot more of them than in the southern part of New Mexico, where I live.  What am I talking about?  Vehicles still proudly displaying Obama bumper stickers.  The driver of one such SUV, an Obama ’08 blazened on the back bumper for all to see, started to change lanes in front of me, but then hesitated.  Realizing what she was doing, I slowed down, signaling that it was okay for her to make her move.  Right blinker flashing, she maneuvered safely into my lane.

Before she changed lanes, I noticed the bumper sticker.  While I had every reason to believe that she supported President Obama, she could not have possibly known that I do not support this President or his policies.  Yet, I had a choice to make.  Would I be courteous and let this Obama-supporting driver move over into my lane or, would I speed up, acting as if I didn’t see her, thus denying her an opportunity to make her move?  Even though I reflexively hesitated (I must admit I always do when I see an Obama bumper sticker), I slowed down and allowed the SUV driver to change lanes.  Through her tinted back window, I saw her give a courtesy wave as she sped out of sight.  As an aside that perhaps Larry David could further explore on an upcoming episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, does it count as a courtesy wave if you can’t see the person making the gesture?

In our increasingly polarized culture, common courtesy seems to be in short supply.  Too often, our words and our actions are needlessly offensive, especially toward those  with whom we disagree — politically, religiously, or philosophically.  Intstead of allowing someone to change lanes, we speed up.  Instead of saying something nice, or not saying anything at all, we utter comments that lack both courtesy and class.  This malady continues to spread and no one seems to be immune.

Back in June, Vice President Joe Biden visited a frozen custard shop outside of Milwaukee.  Although he mistakenly ordered ice cream instead of custard (I’m with Biden on this; I’ll take ice cream any day over frozen custard), the Vice President wanted to settle up before he left the store .

“What do we owe you?” Biden is heard saying in footage captured by WISN-TV.  “Don’t worry, it’s on us,” the manager replied. “Lower our taxes and we’ll call it [the custard] even.”  “Why don’t you say something nice instead of being a smarta_ _ all the time?” Biden said a few minutes later.

I don’t care what your politics are or how badly you dislike this administration (or the one before it), when the Vice President of the United States of America walks into your frozen custard shop or business or church, you should treat him with the utmost courtesy and respect that his office demands.  A nice, “Thanks for coming into the store today, Mr. Vice President.  Your custard’s on the house” would have been a kind and courteous word.  If he couldn’t bring himself to say something nice, then he should have accepted Biden’s offer to pay and said thank you.  While I do not think that it was appropriate for VP Biden to use the language he did, there is still no excuse for the store manager’s discourteous display.

There likewise is no excuse for the obnoxious words spoken by actor Henry Winkler, most famous for his role as Milwaukee resident Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli on the popular 1970’s sitcom Happy Days.  What is it with Milwaukee?  In May, the actor and children’s book author was interviewed on The Joy Behar Show on the Headline News Channel.  Winkler was on the show to promote the final book in the popular ‘Hank Zipzer‘ series, which he co-authored.  These children’s books were inspired by Winkler’s own childhood battle with dyslexia.  Following the adventures of a fifth grade boy, these books are inspirational tales of courage, challenging children (and parents) to overcome life’s obstacles.  I can’t say that I had heard of these books before the Behar interview became well-known, but I would have been inclined to purchase them for my own family.  My middle son, Jacob, has dyslexia and could relate well to Hank Zipzer.  

While only a small audience tuned in to watch the interview when it first aired, in the days that followed many more were made aware of the contents of the interview, particularly Mr. Winkler’s mean-spirited remarks about Sarah Palin and her family.  When you’re trying to sell children’s books, what would possibly possess you to utter petty and insensitive statements about a former VP candidate’s family, knowing that your remarks will offend a large segment of the book-buying public?  Regardless of Mr. Winkler’s personal views of Sarah Palin, common courtesy would dictate that he not attack her family and that he refrain from mocking someone who has a child with physical and mental limitations, especially when he’s trying to sell books about a child with learning difficulties, the very same ones that he himself experienced.  When asked about Sarah Palin, the Fonz would have shown more class by smiling, giving a thumbs up and shutting up.  Maybe he forgot what Mrs. C taught him, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone Arthur, then don’t say anything at all.”

So the next time you’re in traffic and a vehicle with an Obama ’08 or a Bush-Cheney ’04 bumper sticker signals to change lanes, don’t worry about whether the driver agrees with your politics or your faith.  Just show a little common courtesy and let them move over.  Now if they don’t give you a courtesy wave, well, that’s a whole other story!

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