Conversations with Strangers

Atlanta Airport

When I left from Florida two weeks ago both my brother and my sister in law were at work, so I had to call a Lyft. I’ve used Lyft a lot but usually while riding with friends and certainly never for an hour-long ride. I had a lot of apprehensions about getting into a car with a stranger for a full hour. Yes, there was the usual (for me) paranoia about a stranger that could possibly tie me up in the trunk and kidnap me. But also, there was the fear of small talk. I’m not good with strangers. I don’t know how to start conversations and I tend to give bizarre answers to simple questions. I often worry that I make people think that I hate them or maybe that I’m being rude when really sometimes I just can’t form proper sentences around people I don’t know.

I was worried that the driver would spend the entire trip trying to talk to me and I just wouldn’t be able to find the words to respond to him. And at first, my ride began this way. He asked me a few questions about the air conditioning and why I had been in Florida and how Father’s Day had been and I gave short, one or two word answers. I couldn’t hear him very well as I was in the backseat and he was in the front and I kept asking him to repeat what he was saying, which made me feel awful and worry that he thought I didn’t understand him because of his accent.

At some point, though, closer to the airport, we started to actually talk. I can’t remember how it began, but he told me that he moved to Florida to be closer to his daughter, and he felt that it was such a blessing that he got to spend Father’s day with her. He said he was from Venezuela and that he was very grateful to be in this country, because things aren’t going so well back home right now. He has only been here a year or so and is really proud that he’s able to speak English fairly well. He seemed to be happy working this job where he gets to meet people and help them get to the places they need to be.

I told him, in a moment of uncharacteristic bravery, that I speak Spanish (in Spanish.) He told me that my accent was excellent and that if I practiced speaking every day I’d be able to speak it as fluently as English. I mentioned that I am impressed by anyone that learns English as a second language because the rules are immeasurably complicated even from my perspective, and I’ve studied it kind of extensively.

He asked what my passion is. What I do for a living. And without even thinking, I told him I’m a writer. I said, well, I have an office job. But the thing that I do is I’m a writer. I’m trying to get better about thinking of my writing as my career, about bringing that up as a topic of conversation when people ask about my work.

The driver told me that  my brain works differently because I write. That I see the world in a more complex way. That he thinks that writing is an honorable profession. And this, coming from someone I’ve never met before, someone who knows nothing about me except for the few words of conversation before us, meant a lot.

Anyway, he was really nice and kind, and I genuinely enjoyed his company. I forget sometimes that we’re all human, that we all have things in common, that I don’t need to walk around with my walls up afraid of every other person that I don’t know. I forget that my anxiety clouds my judgement of everyone around me. There are good people out there. In fact, I’d like to believe that there are more good people than bad.

When I’m feeling kind of nervous about the word, I need to remember interactions like this one, where people are friendly and warm and genuinely interested in the things that I bring into the world, despite the fact that they have just met me. I need to remember that one of the most magical things about traveling is connecting with people who are nothing like myself and remembering that actually, we’re all the same.

And I need to work harder to be this type of person with strangers, too. It never hurts to be nice to someone else. It almost always brings something good into the world.

My Lyft driver brought some good into my day. And for that I am thankful.

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One thought on “Conversations with Strangers

  1. I’m happy to hear that it was a success story and you both had a good time. As of late, I’m hitting a point when I want to scream: “Can you just shut up?” Why is a problem that I want to sit in silence? Why is it a problem that I don’t want to tell you all my deepest, darkest secrets (or whatever about my life)? Why isn’t your excessive talking and questioning seen as abnormal?

    You’re right, sometimes strangers surprise us, but we have to be open to try. If I’m not open (for whatever reason), then just stop.

    Like

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