Perfect Strangers.

There was a young woman standing at the bus stop. She had a sequined scarf around her neck and a white blouse and a batik skirt that looked like it was made of crepe paper, and on her arms she wore these rainbow knitted sleeves, all of which seemed like it would be miserable in 85-degree weather–regardless of whether it’s Celsius or Fahrenheit–but still I thought, hey, whatever makes you comfortable. She looked, in short, like a typical bus rider because she didn’t look like anybody else and the one thing I’ve noticed in decades of bus-riding is that there is no stereotypical bus rider. If I see a bus rider who looks kind of like someone I saw yesterday it’s because they’re the same person. Anyway I had my earbuds in which meant I was giving off the universal “Leave me alone” signal which is fine when I’m alone at a bus stop but makes me feel uncomfortable when someone else is around. No matter who else is at the bus stop I always have this strong desire to strike up a conversation but I have no idea how. A few times I’ve thought about saying, “Hey, I write this eclectic blog where I sometimes tell stories about riding the bus. What’s your story?” Yet I feel like that would impolite and while I’m on the subject I have this theory about politeness that it’s the way we deal with strangers, and I even once had a broad sweeping cultural idea that the English, who are renowned for their reserve, are so polite because they haven’t been invaded since 1066 so everyone is a stranger, whereas the allegedly rude French never meet a stranger because they’ve invaded or just treated as a geographic throughway since before they had the gall to call themselves Gauls, but that’s another story.
The bus was running late and I finally pulled the earbuds out of my ears and tried to strike up a conversation by saying, “The bus should be here any second now,” which, in terms of lousy opening lines, is second only to “Hot enough for ya?”
And the young woman snapped, “I know!” A bit rudely, really. I felt like a schmuck, but then I feel like that a lot so I’m no stranger to it.

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  1. Red

    Probably she was too hot in all those layers. People dress like that here all the time. It’s to protect themselves from the sun, I figure. Like you, I’d be miserable in those layers!

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That could be it. Maybe she was miserable in all those layers, but I also admire her commitment to a particular look. And a few years ago when I was having a serious health issue in the middle of the summer I was cold all the time and had to protect my skin from the sun, so maybe that was what she was dealing with. In fact I think I was a bit snappish with people at that time too.

  2. Allison

    I feel compelled to strike up conversations with people, often to the chagrin of the folks I’m with. I get shut down from time to time, and it’s always unsettling. But I realize that not everyone feels like chatting, so it’s not personal… probably.

    I wonder if she was mad because she had been yarn-bombed.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It’s funny that I find it hard to strike up conversations but if someone starts one with me I’m always pleasantly surprised and happy to go along with it.
      And maybe she was yarn-bombed, although I don’t know why that would make anyone mad. I’m married to a knitter and yarn is expensive. I’d be thrilled to be yarn-bombed. I’d take the yarn and give it to my wife.

  3. Ann Koplow

    Your intent was good, Chris, and this post is perfect.

    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I never question the intent behind your comments, because I always know it’s good.


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