It’s five o’clock, traffic is backed up for blocks. You’re inching along at five miles an hour. All you want to do is get home. Someone moves over to the bike lane, intending to turn, then realizes they don’t really want to turn after all. They slide back into traffic, somehow sure they can find enough room in the three feet separating your bumper from the bumper of the car in front of you. No turn signal. They don’t even look. They come as close as they can to totaling your car without actually touching it. Then, they honk at you and make that gesture; you know, the one that only requires they use one of their ten fingers.
What do you do? Count to ten? Remember the Golden Rule and smile and wave to them cheerily? Gesture back?
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Truly words to live by. Though, if most of us would admit, and I’m going to do so in print, we don’t often hit that mark. At least I don’t. Anyone who does wouldn’t tell me, because they wouldn’t want to embarrass me. That’s how Golden Rulers are. They think of your feelings. Got to love them.
As far as the golden rule, I’m going to give you the shadow of a doubt, since that’s what I’d like you to do onto me. Rightly speaking, they’re more like words to aspire to. Over the years, I’ve lowered my sights a little — a lot. I’ve been looking for words to live by, that I actually could live by. I haven’t had much luck.
I tried, “Keep on trucking,” “Smile and the world smiles with you,” “Don’t sweat it,” “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” They all fit neatly on a tee-shirt, and most will work for a while. I don’t have to go into lengthy explanations when someone asks me my philosophy of life. They have the advantage that they fit almost any situation. They have the disadvantage that they fit almost any situation. Everyone knows what they mean because they don’t actually mean anything.
After trying a half dozen on for size — some didn’t fit, some fit too snuggly — I hit on a motto that has the simplicity of all of these clichés, doesn’t ask me to aspire beyond my limited ability, yet asks me to do something concrete that actually benefits humanity in some small way.
Today, my motto is: “Tip the musicians.” I know that doesn’t quite have the ring of moral fortitude that “Do unto others” does. But, it suits me well enough. I can actually do it, all the time, every time. And, as simple as it sounds, it has changed my life.
It even has a philosophical rationale: Whoever the musician is, a pianist in some hotel bar, a kid playing an accordion and singing off-key on the streets of Progresso, a mariachi band in your favorite restaurant, despite the fact that they’re passing the hat or have a bowl displayed prominently, they’re not doing it for the money. They’re doing it because it gives them a chance to play, to play to a real audience, not their shower nozzle. They’re doing it for the love of music.
Usually musicians who are playing for tips aren’t very good. They could make more money as an accountant or even working at the carwash. They’re out there on the street because they have a passion for the music. The money we toss into their hat ain’t much, but getting that little bit lets them continue playing instead of being an accountant or a car wash attendant. Being out there on the sidewalk strumming or humming or squeezing away is practice. Someday it might just lead to Carnegie Hall. Such positive thinking is its own reward, but it also deserves a couple of quarters or a wrinkled dollar bill.
And you can’t beat what it does for you. You drop a couple of quarters in the jar and suddenly you’re tapping your feet, the music is bouncier. Sometimes it even sounds better. Try a little two-step. You may find you dance better. The rest of your day is better. How often can you buy a better day for a dollar bill?
When I remember to tip the musicians, I’ve found that I’m more patient with everyone. When I stop at the local Stripes for a breakfast taco and a cup of coffee, I respond to the lukewarm “May I help you — have a nice day,” that the clerk hands to me with my change. I know he says those things because he has to just to keep his job. I answer with a cheery, “Why thank you! You have a nice day too.”
He looks up at me to see if I’m mocking him. I smile. A tip of sorts. He smiles back, an awkward smile that almost cracks his face because it’s been so long since he had a reason to smile on the job. He starts humming to the rap on the radio. Suddenly, he’s a musician.