When I was growing up, my dad had a close friend and neighbor, Arthur Tacelli, who was an attorney in Boston. Mr. Tacelli, as I called him, was a fun, loving guy who always had great stories. He was a “street” guy, but very intelligent, and he loved well thought-out principles and discussions that proved a point. For some reason, Arthur took a liking to me and loved having discussions about various topics. He would question me as if I was one of his witnesses, “So why do you think that, sir?” or “What is the reasoning behind this?” and we would spend time exploring different concepts and ideas.
Among all the stories, there’s one that has just stuck with me since college. Arthur had a daughter, Carla, who was around my age. Carla traveled into Boston each day to school. Anyone who is familiar with the geography knows that East Boston is basically an island, so to get to downtown, one must go through the Sumner Tunnel. Prior to the Big Dig, this was a nightmare (I know first-hand because I went through it every day to get to BC). Traffic was typically backed up like crazy, and proceeding through the tunnel was slow, to say the least. Quite often, Carla found herself stopped at the toll both, and being a very nice and pleasant young lady, she would try to strike up a conversation.
There was this one toll taker she basically saw every morning. This dude lived a cranky, miserable existence, and he always had a frown on his face. Carla, not the least bit judgmental, was as friendly to him as she would be with anyone, and each morning greeted “the Crank” with a cheerful, “good morning.” And day after day she would get nothing in return; no smile, no nod, nothing. Now I never witnessed any of this, but I know Carla, and I can just envision her being as pleasant and nice as can be. This guy had to be ultra-miserable to not say hello back.
Carla told Arthur about the toll taker, and how she had decided to make it her mission to get him to say hello. Day in and day out, she would greet “the Crank” in some new way, in an effort to make him say hello. One day, Carla noticed a Dunkin Donuts cup in the booth and it gave her an idea. The next day, along with her bright and shiny, “good morning,” she handed the toll taker a cup of coffee along with the toll. The coffee was black, and alongside it was cream and sweetener so he could have it just the way he wanted it. “The Crank” was stymied as Carla drove off in satisfaction, hoping the next day would produce different results.
Sure enough, the next day at the toll booth, Carla was greeted with a big smile and good morning, along with a thank you. From then on, the miserable toll taker was pleasant and friendly to Carla as she drove by.
Arthur was thrilled and proud to tell me that story, and in typical “Mr. Tacelli fashion” he questioned me on the lesson learned. We bantered back and forth, and he finished off by punctuating the lesson. ”Louis, always remember – never, ever give in, and never, ever let anyone change your positive behavior, or what you believe in.” Arthur was a very smart man and someone I wish I could have spent more time learning from. He has since passed away, but his presence and style will always be with me.