16 February, L A.S.
A lesson from lifeguarding: Being a regular
Last week, I shared with y’all one of the lessons I’ve learned from my experience life guarding. I want to share with you another such lesson. This one, I owe to a frequent visitor to my pool. For the purposes of this blog post, I’ll call him Devin. Understanding the point I’m going to make requires a basic understanding of Devin.
Devin is mentally slow. I’m not sure why or with what exactly, but he’s clearly not “all there.” I’ve heard rumors of a sad history that I’d rather not repeat. He doesn’t have any speech impediment, and he can hold a conversation, but he frequently stares at people without blinking, can’t remember what day it is, and holds a generally child-like view of the world. He lives with more mentally-able adults (maybe adopted parents) in a home within walking distance of my pool.
Devin swims with incredible frequency: I’ve been working at this pool for about three years, and any day Monday through Friday that I’m there during daylight, Devin will show up, or already be there. He’ll stay from mid-morning until dinner time, swimming laps, back and forth and back and forth for most of those hours. He used to wear a blue flotation belt whenever he swam, but recently, after encouragement from me and a few other people, he swims without it. I could tell for months that he was physically a good enough swimmer to not need the belt anymore: it was clearly only a mental need. Devin’s obviously a heck of a lot happier now to be able to swim without the belt, including diving down underwater and coming back up to the surface on pushes off the wall.
He does more than just swim. Devin also helps out with basic tasks around the community fitness center the pool is attached to, such as sweeping, and setting up tables in the cafe we have for seniors. When I need to move the pool’s lane lines to accommodate different activities, Devin will automatically raise his hand and offer enthusiastic help without me even asking. Sometimes he knows lane lines need to be moved before I do. He always goes about his work with a smile on his face, happy to contribute to the smooth functioning of the place where he spends most of his day.
You see, Devin is the textbook definition of a regular. Everyone in the building knows who he is. Why? Not only is he there nearly every day, improving his fitness and having fun, and contributing to the smooth running of the place for others, but he also greets everyone. Whenever a new person enters the pool area, he’ll give them a hearty “Hello,” and if they don’t respond the first time, he’ll repeat verbal and visual greetings until they return the gesture. If given the chance, he’ll introduce himself, and he’ll especially make sure to greet people he knows, by name. The effect is that Devin is a part of the character of the place, and everyone who visits even semi-regularly knows him. Some find him odd and perhaps vaguely threatening at first, but that first impression soon melts away. (Well, actually he is still a bit odd, but likable, and the farthest thing from threatening.)
The lesson I learned here is that there is value in being a well-known regular at the businesses, fitness clubs, restaurants, and bars that you frequent. I honestly can’t say I’m a regular anywhere myself, but I came close to that level at my college’s coffee shop. If you are a regular, it seems you get a simple emotional benefit of being welcomed, showing genuine gratitude, making new friends, (Devin has a few with whom he talks about professional wrestling,) and even getting special treatment here and there. For example, when Devin helps out in the cafe, he occasionally gets a free lunch. You don’t have to go to Devin’s extreme of friendliness to strangers, but there’s surely a happy median between that and the polite coldness with a customary smile that I think many of us employ even at places we frequent. Get to know a bartender, waitress, mechanic, or fellow member, just a bit. At least know a few people’s names. Admittedly I haven’t done this a ton myself yet, but, Devin reminded me of it. So, thank you for being you Devin, keep it up. You’re damn good at it.