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It's Not Always About Being Right

“Why was a fire pole the best option?”

It was, to me, a logical question I posed to my brother-in-law, Farhan, as we stood in line for bagels on Saturday.

“You know, that’s a really good question,” he replied after a brief pause to absorb my inquiry. Never one to let too much grass grow under an idea or question, I jumped in once it was obvious neither of us had a solid answer.

“I mean, is it really better to slide down a pole, one person at a time, than to dimply run down the stairs?” Before he had a chance to respond, I continued. “And think about it. Even if a pole is a good option, it’s not practical in the long run because you still need stairs so you can get back up to the place where you’ll be sliding down the pole next time.”

If you’re wondering how this conversation came to be, let me explain. The bagel shop in question is a converted fire station, and as such, it is filled with old photos, equipment and other firefighting-related items and memorabilia, including (you guessed it), the station’s old (and presumably original, I hope so anyway ‘cuz that would be cool) fire pole.

As one who shares an appreciation of conversations like this (those that include wonder and speculation), Farhan and I had a nice talk about the “What ifs” and “It could have beens” of fire poles as we waited for our turn at the bagel counter.

“Do you think it allowed them to get to their gear quicker?” he mused, as much to himself as to me as he stared at it, and then at the hole in the ceiling.

I countered with, “And what about training? Today, I’m sure you’d need a how-to video and probably some classroom work and to make sure you’re doing it right. Back then (whenever “then” was, but let’s just assume it was lots and lots of years ago), I’m sure the captain just said, ‘Ok, when the alarm sounds, grab the pole, slide down and mount up.’ I mean, things were different and simpler then.”

We continued along this path for a few moments until the conversation – and our questions – came to a natural conclusion, at which time we wondered who (and why) someone would order something called the “Smokehouse Brisket,” a superhuman-sized bagel sandwich that included lots of items one doesn’t find on an ordinary New York style bagel, including – or in this case, especially – beef brisket. This time, it was his turn.

“I mean, I love brisket, but if I were on the hunt for it, I probably wouldn’t order it at a bagel shop. And it looks so filling. That just seems like too much food.”

I concurred, continuing his thought “… especially when you could opt for the bacon, avocado and cream cheese bagel sandwich,” a less intimidating yet still impressive item sitting next to the brisket. Both were featured in large photos with full descriptions of their ingredients and deliciousness.

From there, our conversations progressed (or digressed, that’s up for debate) about how and when menu items at simple, straightforward places like bagel shops got so complicated, and “Is that really necessary?”

Were these items popular or profitable? And was that why the line was moving so slowly?

“They must be profitable,” Farhan said, never taking his eyes off that bacon/avocado/cream cheese bagel photo (I know he really wanted one), “or they wouldn’t keep it on the menu … I guess.”

“I guess,” I repeated in agreement.

Soon, our time came, and we did what any old school bagel shop patron would do: we ordered a bag of bagels and some cream cheese to go, much to the delight of those in line behind us, who I’m sure had been – like us -- wondering why the line was moving so slowly and also likely NOT wondering anything at all about fire poles … or brisket.

I love wonder, and I love to speculate when I don’t know something. It’s not at all about being right; it’s about conversation, ideas and having fun finding out what others think, right or wrong, scientific or off-the-cuff.

It would have been easy to look up fire poles on our phones as we stood in line, heads down getting real answers. But that would have taken time away from one another and the sheer and simple enjoyment we both derived in that stupid little conversation.

And, it would have changed the entire nature of our conversation from one of being equals in a quest, to a race to see who could find the answer, and to be “right,” quicker. And that little difference changed everything, if even for just a few moments.

We all love answers, especially when they mean something to us in the moment. Let’s face it, if I need medical attention or have car trouble or someone in my family is in a tough situation, I don’t want or need folks scratching their heads “wondering” about things. I need answers and action steps, and I need them now.

But when it comes to things like fire poles and massive, fully loaded bagel sandwiches, there’s nothing wrong with releasing ourselves from the obsession to find answers and instead, embracing the beauty of asking questions, talking about ideas and simply wondering about things without caring if we’re right, or more often, first in the race to be right.

I still haven’t search “fire poles” because I really don’t care why or how they came to be. But more importantly, I haven’t searched for the “right” answer because I so enjoyed the questions and the wonder Farhan and I experienced together Saturday morning.

© 2022 David R. Haznaw

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