Sometimes I forget that I’m not a part of conversations.
I’ve always been a keen people watcher, but it’s become apparent to me recently that since living on the road I routinely become so fully engaged in other peoples’ conversations that sometimes I literally forget that I’m not, actually, a part of the conversation I’m watching play out before me.
This happens most often in coffee shops, which are the backdrop of so much drama in the world. Seriously. Have you ever noticed that?
A few days ago I was busy editing at a coffee shop in Portland, the rain thrumming outside and the French-speaking baristas’ chatter providing a melodic background noise. It was rather woefully slow, a couple of uninspired political discussions…yawn…the stilted non-conversation of a couple that looked as though they had perhaps been together so long that they’d forgotten they once found each other interesting… etc.
The experience lacked stimulation, and I felt myself struggling to stay awake as I went through the editing process that is more familiar to me than nearly every other ritual in my day-to-day life.
But then we had an interview, and it was the most enjoyable job interview I’ve ever been a not-part of. Three very accountant-looking accountants and one soon-to-be-accountant, a woman in her early 30s who I could tell was so 110% different from me that I wanted to befriend her just for the variety we would add to each other’s lives. “Hire her!” I wanted to interject enthusiastically. She would blend perfectly with the energy of the office – I could just feel it.
Hopefully they did, too.
I wasn’t aware of the fact that I was riveted to every word of their conversation until I caught myself almost blurting out a random fact that the interviewee was struggling to remember from Krakauer’sInto Thin Air after she’d inadvertently found herself on a bit of a tangent.
I learned a lot during that interview.
Did you know cows that have had a calf are called used, and cows that haven’t had a calf are called new?
A few days prior, I was sitting in a coffee shop in the ghetto of Salt Lake City, freshly showered for the first time in two weeks. Which was good, because there was a first date happening right next to me and my previously just-out-of-the-desert self might have cast a dusty shadow over the ill-at-ease couple. He was all earnest effort and awkward nerves, but a gentleman, and even my somewhat-jaded self was impressed. “Take the second date,” I wanted to whisper to her. The fact that they don’t speak each other’s language other than a few broken words just made it all a bit more… interesting.
Earlier that day, my not-yet-showered self was paused on a bench just outside the entrance to my fifth and final Utah national park, covered in two-weeks worth of sunscreen, sweat, and sand, my raggedy blonde hair locked into one thick, unattractive, naturally-formed dread. I don’t very often look like a homeless vagrant, but when I do I go all the way, and I was fully there. Not purposefully… it’s just what two weeks and nearly 100-hiked-miles under hot desert sun and blowing sand do to a person.
There were two men in a heated conversation next to me, by their own admission extremely conservative Mormons. It began as a political discussion, but the only reason my attention was snagged was because they were staunchly pro-Hilary and enthusiastically trading criticisms of Trump and questioning how anyone – particularly any woman – could support him. That’s great and all, but it was a bit of a puzzle, considering the fact that they were extremely conservative Mormons. It’s a puzzle I still haven’t sorted out. From there the conversation morphed to Stanford and Brock Turner and rape culture and became even more of an ironic, contradictory puzzle. It was too strange of a thing to be able to pull away from, but I didn’t have a single thing I wanted to add to that conversation. I was basically rendered speechless.
My first night in Seattle I sat in a coffee shop in Capitol Hill, tired and chilled but still on a blissed-out high from spending the day wandering the moss-blanked forests of Mt. Rainier National Park. I was editing, of course. And charging a multitude of dead batteries. And trying to ignore the voracious hunger that was gnawing relentlessly at me. I get a little behind on eating in cities, sometimes.
A young Google employee sat across from me, his voice lively as he described his day at work to his partner, who sat across from him. Business meetings made a little more interesting by men in full business suits playing soccer, strange texts from an even stranger coworker, compliments on a project well done from some higher-ups… stuff like that. As his animated voice weaved in and out of my awareness, his partner sat there, busy on his phone, not even pretending to listen. I wanted to tap the young Google-ist on the shoulder and point out what I felt should have been – but apparently wasn’t – obvious. “He’s not listening to you! Why are you okay with this?! You should want more.”
Of course, the degree to which I can actually know anything about anyone…or their relationship… from an overheard coffee shop conversation is extremely limited… but sometimes those little snippets of glimpses into people’s unmasked moments of daily living can be very telling, too.
Maybe it means I don’t have a life, although I think the fact that I’ve explored 12,000 miles of North America in the past two months counts for at least some sort of life. Big, huge, wild, lived-outside-the-lines life… Or there’s the less appealing possibility that I’m just crazy,
I think the simple fact that I am innately alone on the road, despite the countless one-time conversations and interactions I have with random strangers every day, makes me even more tuned-in than normal to the physical, in-person connections between people in their day-to-day lives, because there’s a lack of that in my life right now.
It’s just all so incredibly fascinating.
People are so incredibly fascinating.
And each one of our tiny little lives is beautiful and riveting and interesting, whether it’s being lived loud and wildly and spread out across an entire planet or quietly and cautiously within the boundaries of a mere few square miles.
So if you’re feeling bored or stagnant in your life, job, or relationship, remember – your boring is actually quite interesting to someone on the outside looking in. And if it’s not to you… well, you’re never stuck. There is always something within your power to do that will bring about at least some degree of change.