On a recent morning I got up early to go to San Diego, leaving my apartment at 5:30 a.m. in hopes of beating the L.A. commuter traffic. While stopping for gas at a Shell station on La Cienega, I thought I’d get some hot water to make a cup of mate tea, but discovered the automatic door didn’t open when I waved my hand in front of the sensor. Then it dawned on me that although the gas station was open for business, the attached convenience store wasn’t – a fact confirmed by the female cashier who saw me attempting to enter. When I asked, “Even for a cup of hot water?” she said “hold on dear,” and unlocked the door, having to force it open for me because it was on some type of timer. She proceeded to show me where the hot water tap was, saying, “go ahead,” and then walked me out and locked the door again.

Feeling compelled to acknowledge just how touched I was by this little act of courtesy, I reached into my pocket and offered her what I had, which was a twenty-dollar bill. She at first refused to take it, but I insisted, telling her she had just made my day and I wanted to express my gratitude. I then left with a spring in my step, my mood made even lighter by having observed how my modest token of appreciation had made her smile from ear to ear.

As I drove away, I couldn’t help thinking of something I had experienced years ago on one of my very first jobs (one I actually hated), which was scooping anchovies for sports fisherman at the Dana Marina in San Diego. It was the only job I could get at age 15, my mom having to drop me off and pick me up. The anchovies swam around a big tank, and had to be collected in a big net called a crowder, using two poles to enable you to get enough anchovies into the crowder to scoop into a boat’s bait tank. We closed at 6, and I couldn’t wait to get cleaned up and dried off after a wet and messy day of scooping bait. My friends all teased me about this particular job, but it was much better paying than working at a fast-food joint, and if nothing else, the people in the boats were usually fun to relate to. Anyway, I had just finished closing up one night, having put away all the nets and locked all the pens, when a woman who was by herself pulled up and asked for a scoop of bait. I told her we were closed, but she seemed really perturbed that I couldn’t help her out at only a minute after six. So I relented, and agreed to let her have what she wanted, even though I wasn’t obliged to, and about the last thing I felt like doing at that moment was pulling the nets out again and crowding the bait.

But then came the part that etched this experience in my memory. “I’m really glad you did that,” she said, and when I asked why, she told me it was because her husband was the owner of Dana Marina. It was a lesson in the importance of going out of one’s way to be accommodating that I was fortunate enough to have learned at an early age, and one that the Shell station cashier I had encountered so early in the morning seemed to apprehend as well (which is why the courtesy she extended resonated so much with me): that is, when a customer really needs something, you are always “open.”