#6: Talk to a stranger on the Metro
This morning I boarded the Metro in the same way I do every other morning: later than I had hoped. But this post is not about my penchant for running late. It is about being surprised when the aging man next to you stikes up a conversation with you on the train when you’re least expecting it.
Is that a cell phone?
This is how the conversation started. Simply. Abruptly. A bit nosily.
No, it’s a Blackberry.
I responded with brevity but not curtness. He seemed like a nice enough guy. Plus he was wearing one of those pageboy caps that encourage eye-rolling when worn by hipsters but are decidedly endearing on the elderly.
I don’t know what the heck that means.
His response made me laugh. He wasn’t saying it rudely but with just enough irritation to convey that the world of technology is just changing too fast for him to keep up. I have only recently begun to have the same feeling myself. (We have an ongoing joke in my office about being too lazy or exhausted or old to keep up with why we need Twitter and why anyone cares what you had for breakfast or what time of day you used the toilet.)
I use it to check my email.
I didn’t feel the need to elaborate on the fact that a Blackberry can also be used as a phone but that mine doesn’t so I schlep a Blackberry, a cell phone, AND an iPod around every day when I could just break down and get a device that did all three things but I’m afraid it will become outmoded the minute I buy the darn thing. That seemed too complex and unnecessarily detailed to share. Not to mention the fact that it may be the world’s longest run-on sentence.
Instead he asked why I needed to check my email so early in the morning. Somehow this casually impersonal conversation turned personal very quickly. We talked about how long we’d each been living in D.C. How much we liked the Washington Metro better than the NYC subway. What we each did for a living. About how we met our spouses (both of us met our significant others in college). I told him that my husband is an electrician.
He must be very smart then . . . You know, since he married you.
This was just the kind of comment that can be weird and creepy in one context but in another can sweetly break your heart. The entire conversation was short—20 minutes at most—and included a lot of repetition (my hearing is apparently as bad as a 75 year old man’s; either that or we both mumble). It was not riveting or all that insightful, not philosophical or particularly unique for two people who have just met.
But when we each disembarked at Metro Center and parted ways I couldn’t help but think about what my days might be like if I started each morning with a conversation like this one. Would I be better off doing the things I normally do: reading the paper, checking my email, staring out the window, wishing that my seat-mate would quit (a) breathing through their mouth, (b) listening to their music without headphones, (c) snoring, (d) picking their nose, (e) hitting me with their elbow while they read the full version of the Post?
There was no question that today felt different. After our conversation I felt open. I felt good. I felt that cheesy soaring feeling one gets when you think about what the world would be like if we all just stopped assuming and started opening ourselves up to connections with those around us. That we might find something good about our fellow humans to take comfort in and that we could do this not just today but any day, every day if we felt like it! I thought and I felt and thought and felt as a I walked down the steps to my next train.
The train arrived. I boarded it . . . And then I proceeded to ignore everyone else in the car with me.
Lesson learned: Some habits die hard. But it is good to be reminded every now and then that we have those pesky habits to begin with. Oh, and talking to strangers can sometimes be a wonderful thing.