Verbal Polaroid: Don’t be a Stranger

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The green and yellow bus lurches to a stop, the doors swing open with a whoosh of air. “Good morning!” I beam at my usual driver as I step on the bus, monthly pass in hand. The doors close behind me. “You know, I think you’re the only person on my route who looks like they might actually like mornings,” he says shaking his head in amusement.

As the bus lunges forward I walk down the aisle with one hand over my head as I lightly finger the bar overhead. After several years as a proud strap-hanging public-transit-riding commuter I’ve earned my sea legs; the jerking and swaying doesn’t faze me as I make my way to my usual squeaky leather seat. I always sit where the rows of bus benches face each other because it provides the best view of the entire bus.

A few sleepy heads look up long enough to acknowledge me but not long enough to say anything.

The woman directly across from me is reading a well-highlighted leather Bible. Once, when she wasn’t reading she told me she worked at the Starbucks headquarters; she’ll get off at the transit station in order to transfer to the northbound commuter train. The preteen girl sitting next to her with her earbuds in—the universal bus sign for “No, I do not want to make small talk actually”— is clutching a pink backpack on her lap; she’ll get off at the middle school. Several other students are also lugging around heavy, bulky backpacks on their way to high school or the local community college. Sometimes they read their textbooks or flip through flashcards, always with their earbuds in.

The man next to me is sipping his regular morning coffee, obviously still trying to wake up. Sometimes he’ll nod a “G’mornin’” but that’s about the extent of his 6:30 am socialness. Several riders are slumped up against the windows, likely still dreaming of the pillows they had to leave too hastily. The only sounds are the creaking and whooshing of the bus doors and the occasional contagious line of yawns.

When an older gentleman steps on the regular riders audibly groan. He’s hauling his weekly recycling: a giant neon-orange cloth bag with pictures of jack-o-lanterns all over it. The person next to me mumbles, “Better pull your legs in,” as the man walks down the aisle with his scary Santa sized bag bumping along behind him. It barely squeezes down the aisle and when it gets stuck he gives it a tug, which elicits more moans from his fellow riders as the can-filled bag has a run in with several people’s knees. He sits down, and then the bus is quiet again.

I pull my black Beatle’s tote bag, complete with Bob Marley pins, onto my lap to make room for other passengers. A man in his late thirties slips a CD into my hand as he walks past. “I burned it for you because I saw your bag,” he says shyly before continuing down the aisle. The CD reads in blue hand-written ink: The Moondoggies. I’ll later find out they’re a local Seattle band. The album is entitled Don’t be a Stranger. (The title likely isn’t ironic because the next several times I’ll run into him on the bus he’ll ask for a date.)

As I slip my new CD in my tote bag everyone else is still slowly waking up. They read, catch up on podcasts or listen to their favorite songs, drink their coffee, and stare out the windows as the sun is just beginning to yawn and stretch right along with them.

They are close enough that I could touch them, but they are always in their own little worlds. So many potential acquaintances, friends, and lovers just within their reach. And they never know. I’m surrounded by people—sometimes uncomfortably close to people — but alone just the same.

As the bus rolls on I continue people watching and when I happen to chance on someone who is awake enough to visit, encourage them to not be a stranger.

38 thoughts on “Verbal Polaroid: Don’t be a Stranger

  1. Nicely written 🙂 It’s quite common that we pass each other and avoid the awkward eye contact. It’s somehow strange to start talking to someone you don’t know but then you never know who that person could turn to be. Maybe saying Hi could be a start.
    I really enjoy your writing. Looking forward to more posts from you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why thank you. I’m glad you like my blog. 🙂

      Yes, it is common that was pass each other without even making eye contact. So times that seems like such a pity to me (but, honestly, this might mainly be because it means there are less possible options of people for me to talk with).


  2. And now you owe us all a post on how the date(s) went (or didn’t, as the case may be 😉 )

    Incidentally, I am a ‘say-good-morning-to-the-man-selling-newspapers-and-ignore-all-other-commuters-(unless-they-have-kids-in-which-case-I-will-smile,-or-a-bike-in-which-case-I-will-glare)-while-trying-to-concentrate-on-what-I’m-reading-without-dropping-my-phone-or-falling-into-someone-when-the-train-lurches’ kind of person. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t have as much of a set schedule at the moment, so this was written about a few years ago when I took the bus at the same time every morning. This also happened to be when I was dating my now husband, so the dates didn’t happen. Although, I did get a pretty good CD out of it! In fact, I still have it and listen to it sometimes. 🙂

      (If I were to write a post, it’d probably be more about how the man on the bus would ask me out and then I’d get all awkward — getting awkward when being asked out could probably be a post unto itself, actually — haha)

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m an oddly (annoying?) awake, chipper morning person (but it sort of goes downhill from there, and by later evening I don’t have any talking at all left for anyone other than my husband). So whether I’m being social has a lot to do with the time of day. And it’s easier to try and visit with people when you see them every day. If there’s weird weather, that’s always an ice breaker. Or complementing someone on their pet or jacket or something like that. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. septembersrose

    I find it interesting that, in general, people put so much effort into achieving their individual goals that will enable them to acquire their own individual wants and pleasures…when the most fascinating and, perhaps the only real, discovery worth making is the discovery of another person. Breaking the barrier and finding some form of intimacy/ connection with another human is to me the most exhilarating event of my day. I wish more people could understand that.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. sweetsound

    I think it happens because it’s sort of a violation of the “three feet of personal space” that we are used to, so the armor goes up. For someone on the introverted side, making contact with many people on the daily commute would be exhausting, and I usually prefer to stay in my headphones or book or just sit with my thoughts. But yes, I’m sure many good connections are missed this way.


    • And if it’s pretty early, it can be hard to just be awake enough to talk. I’m extremely introverted, myself. But for some reason I actually really enjoy talking with people on the bus. Maybe because I know the conversations will never have to go on for very long and because most people aren’t open to chatting, I’ll still have lots of time with my thoughts (lots of thinking time: another plus of public transportation). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Barbara CT

    When I rode the bus everywhere I was always starting a conversation with someone. It was fun to people watch, too. And as I write this, I just had ideas for two posts of my own. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Trent G

    It’s so true! I don’t understand why so many people (including me) desire isolation. Love how you pour so much detail into one scene. Such a fun read. I could see it all.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. schlenkerkelly

    Love it 🙂 I have to concede I am one that does not like mornings, or a lot of chit chat in the mornings LOL! I am always amazed by morning people “Larks” who are just bubbly and ready to face the world at some ungodly hour. I am over here all, just…coffee…and cannot begin to socialize until the caffeine has hit my bloodstream.. However, your thoughtful post does bring to mind how separate we all are, and how we instinctively carve out a personal space for ourselves, walling ourselves in, or walling others out…very Robert Frost. Great food for thought Kelsey!


  8. kenyonarcopeland

    Well, I guess I’ll make an effort. Hello everyone! My name is Kenyona R. Copeland, and I would like to make some new friends. I hope everyones day goes well and that you say hello to someone you don’t know; make a new friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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