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Why Joe Can't Help It

March 6, 2020 (published in the Scranton Times-Tribune)

My daughters hate the way I schmooze.

“How come every time we go to a restaurant, Dad ends up knowing the server’s life story, or becoming best friends with the people at the table next to us?” one of them inevitably will say.

My wife always gives the same answer: “Dad can’t help it. He’s from Scranton."

Yes, I’m from Scranton. And in the “Friendly City” I grew up in, people talked to each other. You saw someone you knew, you gave them a hello and a big handshake. You asked them how they were, and you meant it. You met someone for the first time, you said you were glad to meet them, and you meant it. You’re in line with a person or sitting next to them on the bus and you have a choice of getting lost in your own thoughts or talking with them, you start up a conversation. They’re probably way more interesting than whatever you had on your mind anyway, and you probably have some mutual friends because, well, Scrantonians all kind of know each other.

Moreover, people respected each other. The plumber who came to fix your boiler in the middle of the night was a craftsman, not a workman. We didn’t call him “Joe.” He was Mr. Capazzo. Same with the landscaper, the electrician, the painter, the seamstress. You respected a person with a skill, a trade, a business. Because they could do something you needed, and you relied on them, and you valued them.

In watching Joe Biden’s incredible comeback, the thought keeps going through my mind that over the past few days we’ve been seeing and hearing a different guy than we saw at the start of the campaign.

We’re seeing a guy who looks and sounds like he’s from Scranton.

We’re seeing a guy who genuinely respects and cares about people — and is not afraid to show it.

We’re seeing a guy who is less worried about framing the right sound bite or hitting the right talking point and instead is telling us how he feels and what he believes. Because in Scranton, we can see through crap and just want to know that you mean what you say. Even if we disagree with you we can still respect you because you’re being honest.

And we’re seeing a guy who thinks treating people — all people — with respect, and dignity, and decency is more important than where you’re from or who you vote for, because in Scranton we know that if you respect and care for other people, they’ll do the same for you.

So at a time when people around the country are divided, and television pundits are casting heroes and villains depending on which network you watch, and social media gets angrier and angrier, and we’re all being labeled as red or blue . . . maybe people are just tired of picking sides. Maybe they want something simpler. Maybe they’re sick of being angry. Maybe they want to like each other again.

Maybe they just want to come together behind a friendly guy from Scranton.


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