Most of the time I’m alone at the bus stop, and I’m okay with that. I don’t mind company, and I even tell myself I’d be fine with the company but, well, my brain is a puzzle of contradictions. Let me illustrate that: I know a lot of people aren’t comfortable with small talk, but I kind of enjoy it myself. At least I feel uncomfortable sitting next to complete strangers in complete silence and feel like I should say something. There’s also a guy I see at the bus stop once every three or four months and he’s seen me often enough that the last time we were sharing the bench he apparently felt like he should say something and while I did my best to hold up at least half the conversation I felt like I had a mouthful of alum. So I feel uncomfortable not talking and I feel uncomfortable talking and really what I want to do is bombard people with questions like “Who are you? What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not riding the bus? Can I write down your life story and publish it on my blog?”
Back when I was in college I had a button I always wore that said “What’s this cat’s story?” that I found in a box at a music store and it seemed to help break the ice because anytime someone would ask me about it I’d turn it around and use it as an excuse to ask their story.
Anyway lately there seem to be a lot of people at the bus stop. It’s a wide range of people too: young, old, men, women–suddenly everyone is taking the bus. I’ve gone from being alone to being one of the crowd. At least I no longer feel uncomfortable about making the bus driver stop just to pick me up, but that’s another story. Now I feel uncomfortable because I’m surrounded by all these cats and all I want to know is their stories.
I know how you feel. I hate making small talk but silence is worse. I’ve found that the most fascinating people I’ve ever met are the ones I talk to on the train–some of them have such interesting life stories! And now, I’m wondering about the guy surrounded by gators. What’s his story, I wonder? Thanks for the Bowie clip–I can never get enough of them:-)
The guy surrounded by gators is a picture I pulled from Google Books and now I can’t remember where exactly which irks me because I’d like to go back and find it and find the accompanying story. And there really are some fascinating people on public transportation. I started talking to a guy about an area that was being gentrified and it turned out he used to work for the city and he knew some interesting history of the area as well as some stupid mistakes they’d made tearing it all down.
I’m in a similar predicament. For a couple of years now I’ve wanted to do a photography project where I take portraits of strangers.
1) I am awful at approaching people because ALL THE SOCIAL ANXIETY.
2) Usually when a stranger comes up to you and asks to take your photo that’s cause for alarm and running away because WTF who is this creepy person and what’s wrong with them and for the love of god where is the nearest police officer?
I figure if I do ever try to make it happen, I’m gonna have to set up out in the open somewhere with a sign explaining that I’m an artist, not a creeper, cross my heart and hope to die, and that I just want to capture really beautiful photos of complete strangers so that other complete strangers can look at them and wonder what their story is, and then I’ll cross my fingers and put on my best “I’m not a weirdo” smile and hope that maybe a handful or two of the passers-by are curious and non-skeeved-out enough to approach me on their own.
The idea of setting up out in the open with an explanatory sign really sounds brilliant and would give people a chance to give their full permission and all that as well as being able to tell you their story when you take their picture. I’d be surprised if you didn’t get a lot of people approaching you for that.
A friend of mine had a great idea several years ago: he took pictures of the people at drive-thru windows when he went to get fast food. He did a whole series and called them “Drive-Thru Shootings”. This was in the early days of the internet and he wasn’t sure he could publish them because of legal issues. N
I have apparently an approachable face and I’m kind of a talker myself, and a listener, so I find that conversations with strangers isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that, say, if I’ve been seeing someone at a bus stop regularly, and one day we’ve broken the ice with a comment about the weather, and the next day we talk about work, and the next about what we’ll do on the weekend, we’ll soon we’re almost friends but we never exchanged names! That’s the weird problem I’ve run into . and it very quickly gets to the point where it’s too awkward to ask!
That’s happened to me a couple of times. Or strangers ask me a bunch of questions about myself and I’m happy to answer but then if we lapse into silence and I start asking them about themselves I worry they think I’m only asking to be polite. But really I want to know their stories.
I have a superpower: I project a bubble of solitude around me in public spaces. I don’t notice anything outside my bubble unless I intentionally look for something. And somehow, no one seems to notice me. The silence is unbroken, even if it’s noisy.
I developed this in airports, but also use it in bookstores, coffee shops, grocery shopping, walking down the street.
That’s an interesting superpower. In airports it seems pretty standard that strangers don’t talk to each other. Heck, in airports people who know each other seem to maintain a civil distance if they’re going in different directions. It would be fun to try and test that superpower too. Could you, say, wander into restricted areas because people just don’t notice you? I’d be tempted to do that.
I’m thinking the word is out on all your bus stories, so people are flocking to them.
So people are coming along with me for the ride? I can deal with that.
I love all your stories, cool cat Chris.
I love that each of your comments is a story in itself.