Imagine seeing someone 600 times and not saying hello. 600 times, often sitting close enough to hand them a pen without either of you having to stand up, that close for 20 minutes as a time, and still never saying hello. Does that seem weird? It does to me. I have good friends in my life who I haven’t seen 600 times, and yet perm lady, headphones guy, the woman with the boots – we have never said hello.
600 times is a loose estimate. Figuring four days a week, about 200 times a year for three years, riding in the same upholstered-plastic and sheet metal box down Greeley Avenue – 600 times we’ve pretended we’re just strangers. Which, of course, we are.
I have come to accept this as a part of my daily commute, and I’m fine with that. Maybe perm lady is shy; maybe headphones guy is agoraphobic, and just being on the bus is testing his limits; maybe the woman with the boots thinks I’m a creep because I look at her boots too much. (Don’t judge – you would, too. She has some fabulous boots.) I also know that sometimes, it’s nice to just sit silently and contemplate the world that is rushing past us, literally and figuratively. I am happy to honor that.
Yet I suspect a lot of people isolate themselves because they are concerned that if they talk to someone once, they’ll have a new “friend” who wants to sit next to them every day, chatter incessantly, and the only remedy to that malady is to buy a car. I have experienced the awkwardness of one enjoyable conversation mutating into a daily obligation, but I have survived it. Isn’t that why headphones were invented? If ear buds don’t make it clear, pick up a pair of those retro 70’s cans. There’s nothing subtle about that. You don’t even have to have something playing in them.
I confess, it stings to think someone might mistake me for a chatterer. Even cursory observation of my interaction with other regulars should reveal that I’m not a conversational remora. For example, there’s a woman who boards at the stop after mine. For the first few weeks, there was no interaction; that evolved into quick smiles and a courteous “good morning”; a few weeks later, she sat next to me and said, “Hi, I’m Katie.” (Now that’s my kind of regular.) That was a year ago, and we’ve had a total of three conversations. But we say hello every morning. There’s another regular I say hi to every morning who I have never even talked with, but she seems to think the way I do – it’s nice to have a simple rapport with someone you are going to see 200 times this year.
To be clear, I’m okay with perm lady and headphones guy and anyone else not saying hello. I don’t know about their lives, and I recently read something from author Cheryl Strayed that is perfectly applicable here: “when it comes to the lives of others, until you know it all, you don’t know a thing.” Frankly, I am fond of sitting silently and contemplating the world that is rushing past me, so I’m not looking for daily conversation. But since we’re going to see each other 200 times this year, and for the foreseeable future, I wish we could acknowledge each other as regular riders – or at least as fellow travelers in life. It’s pretty simple, and it doesn’t have to be anything more than just, “Good morning.”
Or is that more like an 800-encounters milestone?