TAHOE CITY, Calif. - There is enough tragedy in the world to make anyone feel awkward in public places.
It may be just a quaint natural phenomenon, but everywhere you go, though there are exceptions to every rule, even in public places where everybody knows everybody, and the atmosphere invites informality, you see a respect for personal space that results in a social impasse that proliferates politeness and reduces personal interaction with strangers to formal pleasantries for the exchange of money and goods, and seats go to waste.
Help fill the void in our divided world. Sit down with a stranger and introduce yourself. Be a little polite, but don't go overboard. Make someone laugh. Take every opportunity to improve the world and share your story with someone new.
I was hanging out at the Dam Cafe in Tahoe City the other day, after the little snow storm we had last week, and it was near zero degrees on the Truckee River. There was a sharp little breeze chasing anything that moved. It was the perfect morning to find a warm place to mingle with the common folk, with whom I am always more comfortable.
A young man and woman came in. The place was already pretty crowded. They ordered their goodies and stood to wait in one of the only available, unoccupied spaces they could stand, blocking the coffee prep table with the cream and sugar and quick-grab condiments, whispering to each other about how they were going to handle the delicate situation.
Their simple dilemma was seeing a bunch of empty seats and no place to sit, because, my goodness, other people, strange humans, were sitting at the tables with all the empty seats.
I must have sent some kind of other-worldly or chemical signal when I first thought it might be time for me to leave because, before I even moved to get up and vacate "my" table with three empty seats, the young couple made their move. After I stood to put my jacket on, the man asked very politely if I minded if they sat down. Like I owned the place I said, "No, not at all!" They stood there waiting for me to gather my things so I added, "Make yourselves at home, you don't have to wait for me to leave."
That's when the true confession came out. There were no bright lights, no cigarettes, no beatings or waterboardings, no threat and no worry at all. The young man chuckled and freely admitted, "We were just trying to be polite." Enough already!
Break the ice! Sit down and say hello and don't bother asking. If you have to ask permission to sit down in public you're being too polite. Perfect manners do not come naturally to mountain people, and we wouldn't want to wish them on our worst enemy.
The more the merrier. Make yourself at home on earth. You are!
You can spell the dam in Dam Cafe either way, depending on the cash flow, which seemed to be fairly deep and constant that morning. Not bad for two weeks before Christmas.
The storm door is being blown off its hinges. Too bad we can't use it for firewood after the next big snow storms that should guarantee a full package of presents of people for us to open in exchange for our polite and clever handling of the delicate "situations" we can expect over the Christmas, Hanukkah and hodgepodge holiday vacation.
In preparation for sharing space with all those strangers seeking substance and spirits in our local establishments (I use that term loosely - we are on faulty ground), I'm stocking up on food (and stockings), clean clothes and chocolate. And don't forget the candles, flashlights, batteries, and, what was that other thing? Oh, the money.
Remind our visitors that this is a free country. It is OK to casually sit down at a table of strangers, especially at the Dam Cafe or Wild Cherries. Don't be so polite. You're in Tahoe, not the White House for goodness sake, or for something like that.
Bob Sweigert is a Sierra Sun columnist, published poet, former college instructor and ski instructor. He has a B.A. and an M.A.T. from Gonzaga University. He has lived at Lake Tahoe for 30 years.