As a young man, I might have had a face people trusted. Often I was told I needed to smile more, but smiles, at least fake ones, reveal an underlying dishonesty more than a face that might be described as emotionless. This fact often puts politicians in a bind. When they don’t smile, they come across as unlikable. When they do smile, they come across as phony. The few who can pull it off (e.g, Reagan, Obama) get elected President. 

I first noticed I might have a trustworthy face back in college when I hitchhiked home to see my parents. On Friday afternoons in Madison, there were usually five or six students spread out along Highway 151, each trying to thumb their way out of town. To me, we all looked the same, but often I’d be the first one to get a ride. Twice I was picked up by women traveling alone, who then said, “I don’t pick up hitchhikers, but you remind me of my son.” 

Then there was my job as a Pillsbury doughboy. I mentioned it in a previous blog. I got that job while standing in a line at an employment office. A dozen people were waiting to speak to a staff member, when a guy walked in who was too well dressed to be looking for minimum wage work. He circled the office a couple of times, then stopped at me and said. “Do you want a job?” 

The same thing happened to me at the housing office at Georgetown University. My first wife and I were looking for summer housing in Washington, DC. To help students who left town for the summer and wanted to rent out their apartments, Georgetown had a bulletin board specifically for sublets. This was decades before anyone had cell phones, so people looking for a place to live had to take turns using the one available phone. The rule was one call at a time, so even if Lisa and I got a busy signal or no answer, we had to get back at the end of the line and wait our turn to call the next person on our list. Although it doesn’t make sense to me now, I remember that the line was outdoors and everyone waiting for the phone sat on a sidewalk with our backs against a wall. A guy walked up and down the line a couple of times, then stopped at me and asked, “Do you want to rent my house?”

The final example of a trusting face harks back to my wandering days in the early ‘80s. Two times, once in Chicago and once in San Francisco, I found myself in the financial district during morning rush hour. Rather than fight the crowds with my backpack, I sat on a concrete bench and waited for the sidewalks to clear. Having just come off a Greyhound bus in both cases, I looked rough, but the people heading for work realized that I wasn’t someone living on the streets. Rather than avoiding eye contact, a few actually approached me and asked where I was heading. My answer was that I was in town to visit friends, but didn’t know where I was going afterwards. It was a time in my life when I rarely had more than a hundred dollars to my name, yet strangers envied me.

Steven Simpson