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Positive, feel-good stories

Faith In The Future Of Humanity: Restored!

, , , , , , , , , | Friendly | January 25, 2023

Several years ago, I was a referee for a First Lego League (now known as FLL Challenge) competition. This is a competition where middle-schoolers build and program Lego robots to run on a board completing various challenges for points.

This year, one of my teams had some adorable homemade outfits fitting this year’s theme. They also had a large banner that they dragged in and excitedly waved, and in general, they were full of energy and excitement.

I always encourage the kids to cheer as loud as possible when their team name is called by the announcer. That’s part of the general goal of making competitions fun and enjoyable for the kids regardless of how well they do on the table. Despite this, I usually get rather lackluster responses when team names are called. Not [Team], though. I got by far the most enthusiastic full-energy cheer I’d heard in a long time from this team.

They were at my table for their first official match. I’d watched them during their practice round and knew that their robot was decent — a bit better than the average — but was still not going to come close to the score of the best few bots.

After [Team]’s robot successfully completed its first two runs, it came back to the home base so they could swap out parts for another run. The boy starting the robot up apparently ran the wrong program. This resulted in the robot running amok over the board as it tried to run a program designed for a very different section of the board, knocking pieces out of place and losing the team points.

Then came the confusion of the kids trying to decide whether to take the bot back to home base, therefore getting a touch penalty, or leave it as it was. They ended up deciding on the penalty, but they hesitated too long making the decision, meaning they didn’t have time to complete the next run before time ran out. The net result was a rather abysmal score compared to what they should have managed.

Luckily, they would get to do three runs and only the highest score of the three counted, so they still had a chance for a better score, but having your first run go so terribly can be quite discouraging to kids.

But as I listened, rather than hearing frustration or scolding directed at the kid who messed up, I heard more cheering, proclamations that they would do better next time, and multiple teammates encouraging the child who messed up. I couldn’t help but be impressed by their relentless optimism and so resolved to keep an eye on them.

As I watched, I saw not just excitement for their own team, but compliments and cheering for the other teams. At one point, I even saw one girl from [Team] offer her help to another team when their robot wasn’t starting up right. The other team was one of the top teams, and they didn’t really need her help, but still, I was impressed by her trying to aid her greatest competition.

The final score on the tables was only one of the four areas we looked at. Separate groups of judges assessed their Robot Design, their Projects, and their Core Values. Since I usually judged, I knew all three categories well.

Core Values included inspiration (team spirit), teamwork, and “gracious professionalism”, which basically means being professional and a good sport to the other teams. I deemed [Team] to have demonstrated all three of those areas far in excess of the average team.

Not able to give up on my inner judge, I couldn’t stand the idea of [Team] not getting recognition for living up to these values on the field — and not just when they were being actively judged. Thus, I took a free moment to run down to the Core Values room and let the judges there know what I’d seen.

As it turned out, [Team] had already been ranked the top team for Core Values, even before they got my recognition. However, there were other steps for deciding what trophies to hand out beyond the ranking of the teams, and one of them was picking who got the Champion award for excelling in all four areas — the score on the table plus the three judged categories.

Usually, the Champion award tended to go to one of the teams that had a high score on the table, as they usually also had a high score in Robot Design, giving them high scores in half the areas we measured even before we considered that these teams also tended to put a bit more work into their Projects.

Still, we always stressed that all categories were weighted evenly; if anything, Core Values was usually used as the tiebreaker for otherwise even teams. In this case, they had three teams with high table and Robot Design scores, but those teams either had an abysmal Project score, in one case, or decent but not exceptional Project scores and mediocre Core Values. Competing with these three teams was [Team], with a perfect Core Values score, a good Project score, and decent, if not exceptional, Design and table scores.

The judges were split between multiple potential winners. It was apparently my confirmation that [Team]’s values continued to be demonstrated at the table that pushed them over the edge to win the Champion award.

[Team] was clearly shocked when their name was announced for Champion.

Personally, I think they earned it. I gave it my all applauding for them.

A Green Light On Generational Silliness

, , , , , , , , | Related | January 23, 2023

When I was in the first grade, my dad showed me how magical he was; he could make a red light turn green simply by opening and closing his car door!

He had the opportunity to do that a few more times before he and Mom divorced when I was about ten. I hadn’t figured it out by the time he pretty much disappeared for the next fifteen years.

I started doing that trick with my own kids when they were about five and seven. I didn’t overdo it — only once or twice a year and then only “when absolutely necessary.”

One morning, I got off work early and I was taking them to school. We got stopped at a large intersection heavy with traffic. I mentioned that we might not get to school right on time.

My son (nine then) suggested:

Son: “Hey, Dad, why don’t you make the light change so we won’t be late?”

Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.

Me: “Uh… well… See, all these other people are in a hurry, too, and I don’t wanna interrupt the flow of traffic until some of it clears out. I’ll change it in a minute.”

They were satisfied.

My own son now has two boys, in first and second grade. They came over the other day and one said:

Grandson: “Hey, Grandpa, my dad can make a red light turn green!”

Me: “Really! How does he do that?”

Grandson: “He turns on the windshield wiper two times, and it changes!”

I glanced at my son and we shared a small, silent smile.

Me: “Well, that’s good, but it sounds like he’d have a little trouble with that when it’s raining!”

At least he came up with his own magic.

Never Pick A Fight With An Old Korean Woman

, , , , , , , , , , | Friendly | January 21, 2023

About ten years ago, I worked part-time as an assistant to an old woman in her eighties. The circumstances of how this came to be can be summed up as happenstance and being in the right place at the right time. The details are a bit lost on me nowadays, but I do remember her splitting into a big smile when she realized I was tall enough to reach the top shelf of a grocery aisle.

She was practically a South Korean grandmother stereotype; she was absolutely tiny — she barely reached my chest and I’m 6’0″ — she was very sweet and kind, and English was her third language. I worked full-time nights, so when I was done with my night shift, I went to her house at around 7:00 am, stayed with her for four to five hours per weekday to keep her company, assist her in getting around, drive her to the grocery store sometimes, and help her cook, as the rest of her family had school and work of their own to do. Then, I went home, usually between 11:00 and 12:00 when her daughter came back, to sleep until I needed to wake up again and get ready for work.

Safe to say, I — a big, 260-pound Caucasian man with a red beard — was a fixture of her house for a good few years. I met a lot of her family and even got invited to a couple of their reunions, though everyone seemed to be under the impression that her youngest daughter and I were dating, despite our protests.

I have plenty of stories, but one stands out in particular: the day about a year into working with her that this less-than-five-foot-tall grandmother protected me from potentially getting my butt kicked.

We were in a grocery store, and [Grandma] was holding onto my arm as we walked, with me pushing the cart and her holding the list of essentials she needed for one dinner or another. We’d just started going down the soup aisle when, as I bent over to grab a can, something bumped into my hip. There was a loud crash behind me, and I looked back to see another man, who had evidently dropped a big can of tomato soup when he bumped into me. The can had broken open and splashed his khaki pants up to his knees, as well as his formerly-shiny black dress shoes.

I’m not sure what his financial situation actually was, but his clothes certainly looked fancier than mine.

At that moment, I could see his face growing as red as the tomatoes, and I had a feeling that he wasn’t about to be gracious about it. So, I went full damage control, taking full responsibility and putting my body between the angry man and [Grandma] in case he started throwing stuff.

Me: “Oh, man, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to—”


Me: *Trying to deescalate* “Look, I’ll pay for the damages and your groceries—”

He cut me off, continuing to scream and making a big scene in the middle of a grocery store, while a woman who I could only assume was his wife kept trying to get his attention. His wife certainly looked pained and embarrassed, but also resigned. The man pulled himself away from her, moving toward me threateningly. As I said, I’m a big guy, but I was not looking for a fight, and my main priority would, of course, be to protect [Grandma]. This angry man was a little bit shorter than me but also fairly beefy, and I had no doubt he’d be able to throw his weight around if he made to attack me.

In my efforts to lead him away from [Grandma] so it was less likely for her to get hurt, she’d apparently moved like a ninja, as the next thing I — or the angry man — knew, a tiny hand came up from below and grabbed the man’s ear. As only a very perturbed grandmother of any race or creed can do, she wrenched him down by the ear so hard that I was worried she’d rip it off, and she started yelling point-blank into it.


At that point, she descended into what I could only assume were Korean insults and curses before she let him go, and the angry man stumbled away from the, frankly, quite scary Korean grandmother. I stepped back, as well, to put distance between myself and the formerly angry, now thoroughly dressed-down man, who mumbled something about not worrying about the pants or shoes and shuffled off in shame, his wife following with an apologetic look.

I looked back at [Grandma], who had immediately gone back to sweet old lady, holding up her grocery list, a smile on her face as though nothing happened.

Grandma: “We need soup.”

I did, of course, pay for the damaged soup can, and our shopping trip went on without any further incident, though I did jokingly call her “my bodyguard” when I relayed the story to [Daughter] when we got back home. [Grandma] made pretend martial arts moves when I said that, laughing heartily, obviously quite proud of herself.

I eventually moved on from assisting [Grandma], though I still kept in touch with [Daughter] and her other family members. A few years ago, [Grandma] passed away peacefully in her sleep, and I related this and other stories at her funeral, earning happy, tear-filled chuckles.

Later that day, [Daughter] took me aside.

She explained to me that the day she stood up for me in the grocery store had been the day that I, evidently, had basically become adopted, because [Grandma] had a history of being a bodyguard to her family; between nosy neighbors and angry fellow customers, she met them with just as much aggression and then immediately calmed down when the situation was rectified. 

I’m man enough to admit I cried even more after learning that.

Never Pick A Fight With An Old Scottish Woman

The Barbecue Never Tasted Sweeter!

, , , , , , | Right | CREDIT: Sleepyyypandawuh | January 20, 2023

I was a food runner at a Korean barbecue place. I had to give some meat to this middle-aged southeast Asian couple. I was surprised because I don’t see many southeast Asians around my area, and I was happy to see a fellow Southeast Asian.

When I gave them their food, I asked them what their ethnicity was.

Lady: “We’re Vietnamese.”

Me: “No way! There aren’t many southeast Asians here! I’m Lao and Filipino.”

Lady: “Oh, my! I haven’t met a Lao person before!”

Me: “Yeah, me, either. I only see them in my hometown.”

Lady: “Your hometown? Where are you from?”

Me: “I’m from [City]! I moved here because of university.”

Lady: “Oh, wow! You go to school and you work?”

Me: *Laughing* “Yeah, gotta pay for that tuition!”

After that, I had to go back to get more food. We waved and smiled a few times.

After the lady paid for their meal, she started asking my manager where I was. I went up to her and asked if she needed anything. She proceeded to ask for my name and what I was studying, etc. — just a nice conversation, which I didn’t expect.

She took my hand and put a $100 bill into it.

Lady: “I want you to enjoy school.”

I felt I was going to cry. It was so sweet. I thanked her so much and wished her well. Her husband was smiling, admiring the scene.

If that lady reads this, I just want to say thank you so much. You made my day that day. I wish the best for you!

Hey, You Don’t Work Here! But That Could Change…

, , , , , | Right | CREDIT: eikon805 | January 19, 2023

There was a locally-owned hardware store close to where I worked. This place had the most amazing selection of fasteners — nuts, bolts, screws, etc. — down to M2 Allen screws, the kind of stuff you’d never find at a big box store. Everything was always in its place; you would never see a bag of M3x5 screws in the M3x8 slot. It was heaven for a tinkerer like me.

One evening, I complimented the manager on how immaculate the section always was, and she started laughing.

She told me that section used to be a mess, but one day, everything was in the right spots, but none of the employees would take credit. They all hated having to organize the section, and she couldn’t blame them. Everyone was confused, and they started joking about being visited by the “Bolt Fairy”.

A couple of days later, she noticed a teen boy intently looking through one of the drawers, and then he moved a few bags around and closed it. She realized she was witnessing the “Bolt Fairy” in action. He noticed he was being watched, so he muttered a timid apology and started to leave. The manager stopped him.

Manager: “Don’t be sorry, but I can’t have you working here unless you work here. Can you come back later with your mom or dad?”

Boy: *Shyly* “Okay.” *Leaves*

About an hour later, he came back with his mom. The mom was looking apprehensive and apologetic, the teen looked like he knew he was about to be in big trouble.

Mom: “[Boy] is autistic, and he loves organizing things. He doesn’t get stressed about things that are disorganized; he just enjoys sorting stuff.”

Manager: “For insurance, legal, and moral reasons, he can’t work in the store unless he works for the store.”

Mom: “It won’t happen again.”

The teen’s eyes started to water. That’s when the manager pulled out an application and a uniform polo.

Manager: “What hours do you want to be scheduled?”

The mom just started laughing and the boy exploded into tears of joy.

I found out later that the boy worked there for about two years until his family had to move across the country. When he put in his notice, the owner found out where they were moving, went online, and found another locally-owned hardware store with good reviews, contacted them, and gave a glowing recommendation.