The stereotype of the "nice" Midwesterner has proven to be true. I have been simply overwhelmed by the offers of assistance, advice, and flat-out charity that I have received, not only from co-workers and colleagues, but from absolute strangers.
The most extreme instance occurred after I'd driven thirty minutes to go to Trader Joe's. (This, incidentally, remains the further I've ventured from my house since arriving.) When I arrived, I discovered a TJ's "Customer Appreciation Day" just getting underway. This involved a free barbecue—not free samples mind you, but full-on heaping plates of food for free. And sno-cones.
So I was already in a good mood before I had even done any shopping. When I was ready to check out, I chose a register at random, and ended up being rung up by a middle-aged woman with loose gray earth-mother hair. Somehow she guessed I was new in town (was it the Marimekko shirt?), and the next thing I knew she was explaining the geography of the area to me, recommending auto mechanics, telling me a more efficient route home, and explaining where the speed traps are on that route. We discovered that I was exactly between the ages of her two children, so she wanted to know about my career prospects, my life history, my family...
It all culminated in her giving me her home phone number, with the understanding that I was to call her whenever I needed help or advice. "Everybody needs a Jewish mother close by," she explained. Perhaps this all sounds rather creepy in the retelling. It seemed utterly sincere at the time. I mean, I'm not actually going to call or anything, but it absolutely made my day at the time. And I'll probably see her again—she works a lot of shifts at TJs ("Always at register #1!"), and I certainly can't get by without my "Greens With Envy" and Portuguese sardines.
When I was ready to leave, she left her register and grabbed a potted plant, a Gerber daisy, and gave it to me. (Some readers may know that I can't keep a plant alive to save my life. It died after about a week.)