When I’m talking to strangers in the context of their work day—the UPS driver, the store clerk, the guy behind the counter at the deli—my standard greeting is, “How’s business?”
I started doing this because, at heart, I hate to feel that I’m boring people; and How’s business?—as opposed to a pro forma How you doin’?—is at least unexpected, and generally draws a less rote response. It’s not insufferably cute, like What’s shaking? or How’s every little thing?—questions that are, in the end, less about getting an answer than about demonstrating the cleverness of the questioner.
I’m not interested in looking clever. If I’ve got to ask a question to open a conversation, I’d rather make it a question worth asking. I’m fascinated by the interdependent economics of small-town life, and (not to be insufferably Lileksian about it) I have a sociological interest in how people feel about their work. I figure that if I ask, I might just learn something. So: How’s business?
So I’m in the street this morning, having dropped The Boy at his bus stop, and the garbage truck pulls up to our driveway. As the garbageman leaps out and starts rousting our bins, I open my mouth to call to him—then I remember the punchline to an old joke, and think better of it.