I once worked in a factory with big mexican guy. Ruggedly handsome in a fierce kind of way. He hardly ever spoke and never smiled that I saw. The young women adored him; everyone else was scared to death of him. Outweighed me by forty pounds—sixty if you were just counting muscle.
Whenever I worked with him he was cooperative but not pleasant, and would discuss the matter at hand, but no chit-chat. If pressed he would growl, “You trying to bother me?…”. If course I wasn’t trying to bother him. Would you poke a grizzly?
I endured this abrasive behavior and air of menace for a few weeks, then knew I had to put a stop to it. But oh, I could see the dreaded moment coming like a freight train—darkness and doom arriving when I confronted him. I knew I’d worked enough with the gloves over the years to hold my own against most people—but I had no prayer engaging the likes of him. Still…
One night I asked to speak with him outside. It was noisy in here, I said, and this was a private matter. He looked irritated, as always when interrupted; but curious too. And as I walked out ahead to the loading dock area, his shadow slowly loomed up from behind in the 400w halogens. We jumped down. We were totally alone in the chilly, midnight air, and the moment was here.
I told him I was tired of his rough talk, condescending attitude, and abrupt disregard for my knowledge and input. I didn’t like people trying to intimidate me, big or not big. If he didn’t like me, fine. But if we had a problem—we were going to settle it right here, right now.
Seconds went by. The only sounds were a few crickets, a styrofoam cup tumbling across the blacktop, and the shushing over from 880, about a mile East. He looked at me with his usual fierce expression, but thankfully didn’t take a swing with one of those hammer-like hands.
“I’ve got no problem with you, man,” he said quietly. His English was excellent. “I like working with you. Everybody likes working with you. You know stuff. Sometimes I just sound hard, that’s all. I don’t mean anything by it. Where I come from, you’ve gotta be hard.” He looked at me until he was sure I understood, then he nodded. “Let’s go in,” he said.
If there’s a moral here, it’s not just that we sometimes misjudge people. Of course we do. It’s that sometimes when you think the scariest turn in the road lies just ahead, it may have already passed.