I like to talk to people. Yes, I’m one of those who’ll happily engage in small talk with just about anyone, although most of the time I have a problem starting conversations with strangers. I get that small talk bothers a lot of people and I respect that. The last thing I want to do is impose on someone who’d rather be alone with their own thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with silence. There are a couple of guys I see regularly on the bus who always sit together. Sometimes they’re talking; sometimes they’ll have extensive discussions that draw in three or four other regular riders, the conversation only dropping off as everybody gets dropped off at their regular stops. And sometimes these two guys just sit together, side by side, one with a thick book, the other with a newspaper, in total silence.
I always feel a little awkward when I’m the only rider on the bus. Does the driver want to talk? How do I know? If the driver’s been laughing and talking with other riders who then got off that’s a pretty good sign that, yes, the driver does want to talk, that they’re one of those drivers who really likes to talk. Most of the time if they’re that type they’ll start up the conversation with me which takes some of the pressure off, but until that happens I’m not sure. Bus drivers run the spectrum. Some want to talk, some want to be left alone, and some are okay with talking but have trouble starting conversations.
There were only three of us on the bus: the driver, an older guy dressed in jeans and a ragged flannel shirt, and me. There’d also been a teenage boy, but he’d gotten off at the last stop.
“Did you have a good day, Jim?” the driver asked loudly.
The older guy didn’t respond. He just sat in his seat staring at his hands.
I’m not sure how long the silence went on but then the driver said, “I guess it’s a ‘don’t talk to Cathy’ kind of day.”
She chuckled, and I said, “Maybe he didn’t hear you.”
The driver didn’t say anything. I felt really awkward, like I’d accidentally intruded on a private conversation. Either that or for some reason the driver thought I was Jim.