I suppose that all of us have been warned against letting first impressions influence us too much, but I’m inclined to agree with 19th century War British writer William Hazlitt who said that first impressions are often the truest.
It certainly was a first impression that got my attention back in 1958, when I stopped in a Mesa restaurant on my way to Japan. The people there made me feel as welcome as I have ever felt anywhere. Later that day, when I stopped at a small place up in Kingman, it happened again. Two for two. I couldn’t help thinking that Arizona would be a good place to settle down. I was right.
I was born in New York, loved our neighborhood on Staten Island, missed it when we moved to a new neighborhood, and missed it even more when we moved to New London. My first impression of New London was good. It was the first place I had ever seen where people said hello to you as you walked down the street, but I still felt strong ties to our old neighborhood, so I went back to New York for a visit as soon as I was old enough to travel alone. A New London friend, a musician trying to get a band job, was staying at a YMCA in New York. He promised to meet me so I could share his room. We were supposed to meet near a restaurant, but there was a wreck on the tracks, the train was two hours late, and I worried my buddy would be gone to work.
With nothing but a restaurant address and a phone number, I shot out of Grand Central Station and hailed a cab. As he stopped at the corner where I was supposed to meet my friend, I saw that the fare was the minimum 30 cents and gave him all my change, four dimes and a nickel.
“Thanks a lot for the big tip!” he said, glowering at me.
I ignored him as I darted around the corner. My friend was nowhere in sight. Thinking he had gone back to the Y to change for work, I spotted a phone booth, dove into a pocket for a nickel, and remembered I’d given all my change to the ungrateful cabbie. Scurrying over to a little candy stand, I took out a dollar and asked for change for the phone.
“Whatta ya gonna buy?” the surly owner growled.
I had perhaps five minutes to catch my friend. I grabbed a Hershey bar and gave the rude jerk the dollar bill. The bar was marked 5 cents. He handed me 90 cents change.
“Hey!” I said. “Where’s my other nickel?”
He pointed. “What? You can’t read?”
A greasy old sign said: CANDY BARS 10 CENTS.
Luckily I got hold of my friend so I didn’t have to pound the pavement till midnight, but after five minutes back in my “home town” I knew I was better off living somewhere else — anywhere else! Those five minutes may not have been my first impression of New York but they were my first adult impression. I’ll sum it up for you: Phooey!
Contrast that with this. When Lolly and I drove up to Pine to find a place to buy it wasn’t the first time we had seen the little mountain town we love so much, but we’d spent most of our time up here helping my brother-in-law build an A-frame cabin. It may have taken a long time to build that A-frame, a lot less than it took for the Dude Fire to incinerate it, but all it took to convince us that we wanted to buy in Pine was one weekend.
We had been directed to MVP Realty by a friend who bragged about the service. It was Sunday. We were staying at the Windmill Inn in Strawberry and eating across the road in Strawberry Lodge. We could travel on foot from our Realtor, to a great meal, to a soft bed in five minutes.
After looking at houses all day Saturday, we started out on Sunday morning thinking it was going to be a decision between two places we had seen, but our agent suggested we look at just one more, so off we went. When we got there we liked what we saw, but we had also liked the other two places. It was when we stepped outside to take a second look at the back yard that fate arranged something which made up our minds.
The “something” was Ralph King, our soon-to-be next door neighbor. Ralph, 81 years old, came out of the house, leaned over the fence, smiled, introduced himself, spoke exactly 12 words, and sold a house. The 12 words? “I hope you know you’ll have help if you decide to move in.”
On a cold, wet March day sometime later we moved in. Ralph was as good as his word — a big help. On that day in March, 1998, Lolly and I verified our suspicion that we had found the world’s best next door neighbor.
To top things off, as we awoke in our new home the next morning and continued unpacking, we heard a tap on the front door. We opened it and found another neighborhood jewel — Jewel Sparks, wife of Russ Sparks. Russ and Jewel owned the house on the other side of Ralph. In Jewel’s hand was a still warm loaf cake.
“Welcome to Pine,” she said, smiling. She came in, visited a while, and helped us unpack till she had to go make Russ’ lunch.
As we stepped outside with Jewel we met another neighbor — coming across the street with an armload of wood for our stove. It was the first armload of many. That was when I met ...
Oops! Space is getting short. Oh, well. You think Pine sounds good so far, Johnny?
You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!
Wait till next week!