Don’t you just hate it when you’re having a bad, horrible, rotten, unpleasant day, when you’re maybe feeling a little irritated or resentful or hurt or afraid, and then somebody comes along so relentlessly positive and cheerful that you almost want to throw him off the Hertz airport shuttle bus?

That happened to me last week. Coincidentally, it was on a Hertz airport shuttle bus.

Let’s just say my mood that day was a little … dramatic. You work in long-term care, so it’s possible you understand the feeling. Lots of pressure. Lots of unknowns. Lots of wild-eyed thought monkeys running loose in my brain. Like an angry hippo in an exotic mud bath, I wallowed in the mood, with little interest in being shaken from it.

Then the guy in a Hertz shirt started talking, hanging onto a handrail as the door gasped shut and we lurched from the curb.

First he welcomed us, and thanked us for choosing his fine organization from our many options. Blah, blah, blah, the usual nonsense. Then he shared a little about himself, how he was a veteran, how proud he was of his active-duty son, why he took this job, how glad his wife is to have him out of the house, and how much he loves his work. My initial reaction was, “Good for you. Just get me to my car,” as apparently my hippo mud bath was also a little toxic.

Then he asked where we were from and where we were going — the cosmic implications of those questions doing nothing for my mood — and just generally smiled, laughed, chatted us up, told a few corny jokes and kept radiating unrequited good will for the duration of the ride. Gradually, like a hair dryer melting an icy pond, he won me over. He was simply so charming, witty, eager — and most of all, interested.    

My mood had now entirely shifted from darkness to incredulity. He wasn’t the driver, and does Hertz really pay a guy to just ride around with the sole purpose of being nice to people? It made no business sense, and I wasn’t the only one amazed.

“I’ve been on a lot of airport shuttles, and I’ve never had an experience like this,” said a guy from Albuquerque during a lull in the banter. “Thank you.”

On the shuttle bus of long-term care, I feel safe in guessing you deal with more than your share of angry hippos like I was that day, from grumpy staff to irate family members — people who want to stay muddy and mad just to be muddy and mad, often for reasons that have nothing to do with you or your facility.

What I learned from sunny Mr. Hertz is to embrace the simultaneously simplest and hardest strategy possible — to stay curious, positive and tirelessly present. Just show up, smile and care without agenda or expectations. Then watch the mud take care of itself.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a national Silver Medalist and regional Gold Medal winner in the 2014 Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program. He has amused, informed and sometimes befuddled long-term care readers worldwide since his debut with the former at the end of a previous century. He is a multimedia consultant for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.