The Middle Eastern gentleman who checked us into the hotel was nice. Both of the waitresses at the TGI Friday's (I know, I know, but the hotel gave us a coupon) were nice. The first cab driver was nice, until he decided 11 p.m. was too late to come back and pick us up even after he gave us his card and told us to call him when we were done, and then the second cab driver was nice. The bartender and servers at the House of Blues were nice an unprecedented occurrence in my not-inconsiderable experience. Even the bartender at the loud and oppressively fratty Orlando Ale House was nice, and she had every reason in the world to exhibit an ominous sense of impatience, or at least a worn indifference.
All in all, the frequency and degree of niceness we encountered was... unsettling.
At one point, Rebecca commented on it, and I responded by supposing that when your paycheck depends on satisfying the wants and needs of large families from the Midwest and confused elderly German couples, putting on a friendly smile and helpful demeanor becomes second nature. After all, we were at the Happiest Place on Earth, or at least directly adjacent to it; if you can't swallow your sarcasm long enough to serve up a plate of tater skins and give accurate directions to the Magic Kingdom, well, management's gonna find somebody who can.
Later, though, I thought about that, and it genuinely troubled me. Is that what I really assumed? Is that my attitude? Have I been so jaded by experience, am I so cynical in my expectations, that when confronted with a wealth of niceness, my immediate reaction is suspicious dismissal? That sucks. It's pretty unsettling in and of itself.
Unfortunately, upon closer in(tro)spection, it seems to be true. A lifetime of elementary-school tauntings, in-traffic near-misses, episodes of thievery by casual acquaintances, everyday exposure to pettiness and self-absorption, and that one time that guy just punched me on Seventh Avenue for no reason has shaped me to assume that niceness is the exception rather than the norm. And worse, it's devalued my own niceness; I shouldn't feel good when I hold the door open for a stranger at the RaceTrac, I should feel bad when I don't.
I like to think I'm a pretty nice guy. And I have nice people in my life. (I actually know the nicest person in Tampa. Her name is Rachel Anne Lisi, and she works at the Straz Center.) I don't think they're corny or backwards or naive. But sometimes I'm not nice to strangers because on some level I assume it will be taken for weakness or an invitation to exploitation, or, at the other end of the spectrum, as some kind of manipulative act, a con, an insincerity.
Unsettling, indeed. Because a society where nobody trusts anybody and any gesture of goodwill is suspect isn't really a society at all. It's just the end of the John Carpenter remake of The Thing, and that didn't seem a like a particularly satisfying way to go out.