Friday, October 21, 2011

Speaking with Strangers

When I am sad, all is directed downward.

Shoulders, eyes, corners of lips.

I rarely speak as the air about me discourages converation - it feels safer, if painfully lonely, inside my head.

Said depression seems to have lifted as my recent trip west was littered with interactions - short, friendly exchanges likely inspired by curious eye contact and automatic smiles.

"Is this A4?" the man asked, eyes bright but gait unsteady as he shouldered his way through the crowd toward the pole that was charging my laptop.

"It is," I replied, lips curving in welcome but sympathetic expression emerging as he mentioned his hip was hurting from his previous flight. I glanced at his ticket and touched his arm briefly to command his attention. "You're going to Boise?" I confirmed and when he nodded, mentioning it was home, I winced and said that US Airways was miserable about changing gates. "You're going from somewhere else - A29, I think - but you should look at the monitors to check." So hand on his arm, I pointed at the nearby cluster of screens and frowned as I watched him hobble toward the proper departure point.

I answered questions for two more people, wondering if I looked knowledgeable or simply approachable standing there in my gauzy skirt and turquoise sweater.

I arranged the former around my legs after standing at spot 5 to wait for my taxi outside LAS and crossed my legs toward the duffel and laptop bag on the seat beside me. "Summerlin," I directed my driver, looking up the hotel name on my Blackberry as we sped away from the airport and past the strip.

"Are you married?" my driver asked after we'd covered travel and weather and economic topics.

"No," I replied with a shake my ponytailed head. "I have a dog and cat," I offered, "but no husband or children."

I winced in sympathy when she said she lost her husband 8 years ago and her children were now grown. "I like being on my own though," she said. "I date now and then and enjoy men's company but never seem to want to sign up to take care of someone again."

"I think I like the idea of being with someone more than the reality of it," I confessed. "I love the infatuation part - the blushes and nerves and excitement of first dates and first kisses. But then it becomes routine or someone opts out and feelings are hurt and it's just a lot of work."

She agreed and we discussed male quirks until arriving at my lodging for the overnight trip. I thanked her and grossly overtipped and waved as the doors slid open to welcome me to the hotel.

I quickly made friends with the man at reception, then made the acquaintance of the waitress at the restaurant in walking distance.

I chatted with both colleagues and collaborators, enjoying the small talk of (very) conservative politics and demurely declining to share my views. I did take notes, gaining professional insights and asking questions between sips of wine in the evening or gulps of coffee in the morning or bottles of water throughout the day.

"My flight was delayed 3 hours," he said and I glanced up from my laptop to politely cock my head at him.

"I'm sorry," I offered with a gentle smile, watching as he lowered himself to the ground opposite to where I was sitting, again to charge my laptop.

"It's fine," he replied easily, arranging the hat that rested rather jauntily on his head. "I had a great vacation and got cash to have some lunch and I'm not going to get upset about it. Life is good."

"Good for you," I praised. "It's easy to get upset about travel problems but your attitude seems much healthier."

He grinned at me before readjusting his hat to take a short nap on the semi-dirty floor on which we rested, waking to tell me more about his weekend and asking after the work that had me so focused.

"So how are you?" the cute boy next to me asked, turning off his phone on which he'd had a friendly conversation moments before as he settled into the middle seat.

I turned my attention from the window toward him, admiring both glasses and closely-cropped beard before answering that I was fine - thank you - and how was he? So he told me about his friend and his problem and we talked about Vegas and our differing purposes of business and pleasure.

Then we, as he put it, geeked out by discussing medical topics. Healthcare trends and treatment strategies and political influence and global approaches. It was fun - like a really good blind date - to find someone knowledgeable in the field I call my professional home. And we exchanged insights and asked questions and made eye contact and smiled and touched hands and arms as the discussion grew more animated.

I glanced at the card he gave me before we deplaned and returned one of my own. "I enjoyed meeting you, Katie," he said, smiling and nudging me with his elbow as we waited our turn for people to deplane.

"Likewise," I replied. And I enjoyed being met.


Amelie said...

That sounds lovely, Katie (especially the last bit ;)
Strangers regularly ask me for the way, to take their picture, and other such things -- like you I've been wondering whether I look knowledgeable or maybe just friendly enough to ask.

Anonymous said...

Dude at the end sounds so cute!

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