Strangers

I’ve discovered that one of my favourite things about travelling, and particularly by public transport, is the strangers that you get to meet.

Firstly there was the lovely lady that I met in the departures lounge of Aberdeen airport. Just as happened last year, I was reading my bible to to help with the last minute nerves a little, and then an older lady sat next to me, struck up a conversation and it turned out that she was a Christian too. She was headed to Gatwick to see her daughter and it was really comforting to to be able to talk to someone while we both waited on our planes.

On my flight to San Francisco I was sat next to a man from India. He had already been travelling for 24 hours having had to leave his home in India at 4am to catch his flight to Heathrow. He was headed to the city to work, something to do with computers. He had never been to the states before and was full of questions which I hope I answered sufficiently.

I had been looking forward to something of a quiet journey from San Francisco to Santa Clara, some time to reflect and process, but it wasn’t to be. Instead I met Jonathan who was headed to a job interview. He was very chatty. That much conversation would be so totally socially unacceptable in the UK! But he was friendly and enthusiastic and told me all kinds of things about the games design job he was applying for. Quite a character.

I really enjoyed my Amtrak experience and thankfully I had none of the problems I had been warned to expect. There I met a lady called Rebecca who was a bit of an old pro on Amtrak and Greyhound and she kept me right/gave me a few tips for my onward journey. She never really said what she did, only that she traveled a lot. She was carrying a guitar and sensibly brought a pillow so she could get some sleep.

At the Greyhound station in LA I met a young guy, 18 or 19, who was quite clearly high. We got to talking about college somehow and he told me he went to Santa Barbara City College. He had decided to go there because in Santa Barbara County marijuana has been legalised for medical use. So he’d managed to get himself diagnosed with glaucoma and could now smoke all the pot he wanted. Well, that’s one way to choose your college!

On the Greyhound to Porterville I first sat next to Amy. She had had quite a difficult day and night with broken down buses and missed connections as she tried to get home from college to visit her mom for a few days as a surprise! Her mom had no idea she was coming and Amy let a call from her go to voicemail so that she would think she was a work. Other than seeing her mom, Amy was desperate for In’n’Out (the world’s best fast food for those of you who haven’t experienced the joy) which she’s not had in her year away at college (it’s a California thing). On the second leg of that journey I sat next to a very lovely older lady whose name I never caught but I remember that she took a phone call from her son and one of her grandchildren was ill so when she finished the call she sat and prayed. Later in the journey she insisted on giving me a bottle of ice cold water and candy from her well stocked cooler bag. Her kindness was beautiful – we hadn’t really spoken but I’d told her I was travelling alone and she really just wanted to look after me. It was simple but perfect.

Another person I/we met, who will forever be something of a legend in our family, was the gentleman on an LA street corner who directed us to the most luxurious and delicious breakfast we had ever had. We came out of the subway station in downtown LA and were stood looking at our map trying to figure out where we should head first. He was just casually standing next to us and asked what we were looking for. We explained we just wanted somewhere to get breakfast first and after deliberating, because apparently they don’t really do breakfast in downtown LA, he suggested a place only a couple blocks down called Bottega Louie. We had no idea what we were in for but the macaroon towers in the windows and the 40ft cake and pastry counter were a pretty big indication as we walked through the door. The epitome of understated opulence.

Speaking to strangers is something quite alien to those of us indoctrinated in the Great British Reserve. It’s just not done here. But I admire and love the openness that I have experienced in the American people. Strangers needn’t be strangers for long.

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