The big ol’ City of Rockland was Lobster Festival busy on the morning of Labor Day. The line at Rock City Coffee was nearly out the door, mainly unfamiliar faces, not the usual Main Street working crowd. I didn’t even try it after checking my watch, in mind to keep an appointment with another scrivener on the sidewalk for a deep discussion about Newfoundland, where I would be headed soon (and this counts as work?). After a merry hour concerning ourselves with iron mines and Vikings and the French authenticity of St. Pierre and Miquelon — not so much the codfish or the Screech — my friend took a phone call. It sounded as though she would scramble on a mission of mercy with jumper cables. As she gathered the facts I popped back inside to try again for a coffee.

I took note that these out-of-towners seemed generally in decent spirits, despite talk of the end of summer. I didn’t overhear a single twang, drawl or Joiseyism instruct the baristas on how to run their business. I waited behind a happy family of four who clearly had not eaten there before, who had a lot to discuss before they settled on an order, who clearly wanted a whole meal, and who existed in that liminal space between breakfast-menu-time and lunch so some consultation with the cook would be required. The dad noticed me. “Say, are you all ready to order?”

“I just want a coffee.”

“Oh, well — you go ahead!” I thanked them and thought to myself, “I’m going to say something nice about these people in the newspaper.” This I can do. Thank you once again.

Later that day I had occasion to venture into Walmart. Okay, don’t start with me. I have some friends and neighbors who are not slow to pontificate on the evils of the aforementioned corporate juggernaut. I cannot argue their righteousness or dispute their knowledge of right and wrong, particularly on Labor Day, but the fact remains that some downright nice people work in the Rockland-Thomaston Wallyworld. I don’t particularly like some of the realities exposed within the store, including our relationship with the People’s Republic of Factories, but there I was with my list, a half-dozen unrelated items that would have sent me to a half-dozen stores, few of those businesses occupying any more admirable moral ground in the economy anyway. Carrying in a list is important to me: I try to make a point to resist any impulse shopping at Walmart, despite how frequently they change the layout of the store, to force customers to wander around lost and look over wares for which they have no need. They count on us going in after balls of string or whatever and coming out with a heaped-up shopping cart–load of “Oh, this looks useful — and it’s inexpensive.”

The school supplies were arrayed at the front of the massive store for the convenience of many, and many there were. The many had managed to up-end piles of boxed crayons and run roughshod though an aisle of notebooks. Glassy-eyed parents were staggering around muttering about how maybe the pencil cases were in the next aisle (do people really still use pencil cases?). At least one clerk was making a valiant attempt to restore order to the brightly colored chaos. I needed a watch battery — installed would be nice — and a big plastic bin and a luggage tag and some other oddments. There was exactly one bin left of the correct size. There was one package of bright yellow sticky-notes, also on my list. Labor Day proved to be ear-piercing day in Rockland, so waiting at the jewelry counter for them to help with my wristwatch was an experience. The employees were kind to nervous children, patient with some very tedious transactions, and quite adept at piercing ears. At the watch-battery department and at the checkout I heard courteous words all around, and that is no small thing in a crowded Walmart the day before school starts.

Next, to Dorman’s, where there was quite a queue as well. A car with plates from somewhere distant pulled in and a couple fell in line behind me. “What is grape nut?” she asked. I tried to explain. “It really is better than it sounds.”

That started the larger conversation. Smiles were produced up and down the line as memories were exchanged. Strangers to each other until then, we, maybe ten of us, compared notes about how grape-nut ice cream has nothing to do with grapes, and about the old-fashioned flavors still for sale, the white wooden signs remembered from childhood, the airport that used to be across the road, and the diner that somebody’s mother used to run.

The guy from far away ended up ordering grape nut.