We had literally JUST talked about it. My buddy Andrew and I had created a new podcast earlier that week called “Nonconfrontational Arguments.” It was our first episode and we were really excited to record it.
We covered a lot of things in the podcast but the subject matter was talking to strangers. We discussed meeting people at parties, how to introduce yourself to people you want to meet, and awkward encounters with randos.
But one of the things we discussed was how neither of us had ever had a meaningful/significant conversation with somebody we met on a train. Our hypothesis being that other people are just so weird that it’s impossibly rare to have a positive interaction.
I have been taking the train regularly for almost 6 years now, and I’ve had a few very short conversations with people. Usually it’s nothing more than catching eyes with somebody and opening them real wide to jointly acknowledge some nonsense happening elsewhere on the train; a crazy preacher type, somebody singing loudly for no reason, or somebody reeking of something awful.
I’ve chatted briefly with people about the book they were reading if it was something I had read. My longest “conversation” had been with the embalmer who had been in prison for 10 years and just started talking to me for 20 minutes because he was drunk or lonely… or both.
Two weeks ago I changed trains to get off the express and get on the local. I do this sometimes because I always get a seat on the local and some days I just don’t feel like standing.
While I was still on the express train the doors opened and I hesitated. Did I have enough time? Sometimes the local can be EXTRA local and take way longer to get to work. The last thing I wanted to do was have a nice relaxing ride to the job I was now going to show up late for. But right before the doors closed I thought the better of it and scooted off the train.
If you’ve never seen me scoot it is quite something.
I get on the local train and get a seat. I pull out the script I was editing for my upcoming play and start crossing out and editing not really paying attention to what was going on around me.
At the next stop a woman gets on and sits down next to me and pulls out a script herself.
That I noticed.
So now I’m immediately curious. Who is she? What is she working on? Should I say something?
Now since I’m still relatively new to play writing and screenwriting, I still feel insecure talking to other people. I figure she is somebody important and if I say something she’s going to feel like I’m some wannabe Hollywood schlub trying to get her to read my script. So I don’t say anything.
And I probably wouldn’t have talked to her at all had she not first spoken to me.
Do you teach screenwriting?
And that catches me off guard because this woman thinks that I look competent enough to teach other human beings how to write movies. I tell her no that I’m just a playwright. And that spurs a conversation that instantly got my heart pumping.
Turns out she is active in the theater world and we have similar views and interests and opinions. In fact, we talk the entire way into the city. She tells me she never takes the train. That she only took the train because she missed the bus today.
We talk about fate. We exchange information. We get off at the same stop. She goes her way and I go mine.
The whole time we were chatting I have been sweating because I am so excited and my heart is beating so fast and I’m trying to appear competent but all I can think is
OH MY GOD THIS IS SUCH AN AMAZING FATEFUL UNIVERSAL COINCIDENCE HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP HOLY CRAP.
So I hustle out of the train station not because I am late but because I am on cloud 9. That is by far the best experience I have ever had on a train and one of the best interactions with a stranger in general.
I’m walking really fast because my energy is just flowing like crazy. And I am a fast walker to begin with so I must have been really flying. I’ve got an extra duffel bag over my shoulder because I was going up to Boston that evening. And I’m hustling along weaving in and out of slow people. I am about to pass this guy in front of me when I realize he is walking pretty quickly and I can’t really get around him, and by that time my bag has hit bumped into him.
Immediately he spins his head around and shoots me a dirty look. And that’s when it gets amazing. I speak first.
Yea it’s called consideration!
So now I feel really bad because this guy is really pissed, and when I feel bad my voice goes up.
I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to bump you.
But he’s not fine. And he’s turning to go into a coffee shop. I want to say something else.
I hope you have a good day sir.
And I can understand how, considering the circumstances that might sound like I was mocking him or being a jerk. But honestly it wasn’t intended that way. But it obviously did not sound the way I wanted it to because he just pushed into the coffee shop, shook his head, and said almost in a defeated manner:
Oh well, at least the train ride went well.