My 30-Day Life Experiment back in September of One Conversation per Day on Public Transit helped me to meet most of the people I commute with. One of them I didn’t write about on my blog because I didn’t feel right disclosing our conversation was this guy named Steve (not is real name). No one really talks to Steve because he is a bit eccentric. He wears multiple winter jackets, always carries around his Walkman (yes with a cassette tape), carries around a backpack and a rolling backpack both stuffed with newspapers and other assorted items, and he’s usually sitting on the ground talking to himself. If you didn’t know better, it would sound a lot like a description of the homeless people you see in Boston.
However, I happen to know from our previous conversations that he is indeed brilliant. His mind simply works faster and dives more into depth about pretty much everything than the rest of us. He memorizes phone numbers, addresses, sports statistics, and generally anything that you could put in a spreadsheet. Despite his enhanced brain power, he can be difficult to talk to and a bit intimidating to approach due to the eccentric behaviors he has. Frequently I’ve heard people who talk about him and how weird he is as if he’s a homeless person and as if he can’t hear them. It definitely makes me really uneasy but I’ve never said anything defending him. What these people don’t know is that he actually has a decent-paying job which requires him to use his unique brain power on a daily basis. This is unlike the many people who I’ve seen talking about him on the commute, two of whom I know work at kiosks in the mall, not exactly a job that requires higher level brain power nor does it pay well. So on both fronts Steve wins despite his awkwardness socially.
So today, we all got on the bus and Steve went straight to the back and sat on the ground despite having open seats on the bus. I followed him back there and decided to strike up a conversation with him. I’ve done this before except this time I wanted to get more personal but more importantly I wanted him to laugh or smile (which I’m not sure I’ve ever seen from him). I asked him how his New Years was, something I’m sure no one has asked him yet. Then I asked him four or five more questions trying to get him to talk about himself. He seemed to warm up a bit, volunteering more conversation than is typical with him.
The bus sat there for about 10 minutes (God knows why) and everyone was kind of grumbling about it. That morning the temperature was pretty brutal, with the windchill it was about 7F. So I was glad to be on the bus and not standing outside, life could be worse. So I said this too him and he laughed and said that I was indeed right about that, standing outside would definitely be worse. Then we talked about various things here and there but I noticed he was in a much better mood and smiling more. My goal with Steve was accomplished, hopefully it made his day a little bit better to have someone to talk to and laugh with even for only a brief period of time on the early morning bus commute.
As for conversing with random people on public transit, I’ve found that people are very approachable, especially when there’s something happening where you’re all stuck in the same boat: delayed train, someone’s being rowdy, conductor is being an a-hole, etc. It’s moments like these that you can really connect with your fellow commuters instead of just zoning out on your ipod or kindle, it makes the experience a little more pleasant.