Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lady on the bus

I watched a lady getting on the bus the other day. As the bus pulled up, she didn’t do the standard hand out signal…

A brief editorial aside: When I signal for the bus, I do it as nonchalantly, bordering on grudgingly, as possible. I try to make as little external deal as I can about signaling that I’d like to get on this bus. Internally, I am screaming, pleading for the bus to stop. As a person who has previously (naively) thought that the bus would stop if you were standing at the agreed upon bus advancement location, only to walk serenely toward the street and get splashed with puddle as the bus zooms past at mach 7, I know the importance of a good external signal. You have to strike the right balance between seeming almost too cool for the bus like you might call it back, but only after at least a week, like you are doing it a favor by riding on it and hand-wringing desperation- PLEEEEEASE STOOOOOP-I’ve-already-left-7-messages-on-your-voice-mail-but-I-swear-I’m-not-crazy-I-just-stopped-my-medication-because-I’m-actually-doing-a-lot-better-just-ask-my-cat-Schnoodles. This is important because if the bus doesn’t stop, that’s you screwed for another half an hour on the side of the road- IF the busses are running on time. And remember, you are in Aberdeen, where more than likely, if it’s not raining, it will soon.

Secondary editorial aside: it’s been absolutely beautiful in Aberdeen for the past 5 days, so based on my experience, there’s a 10/365 (2%) chance that it won’t be raining.

Back to the lady getting on the bus. What struck me was that she didn’t do the blasé hand out nor the anxiety spasm. She waved for the bus. Almost like you’d wave when you are at the airport and see your family car coming around the bend toward the pick up area. It was that kind of happy wave. The bus stopped (obviously, how could you not, she’s obviously happy to see you) and she got on. She immediately struck up a conversation with the bus driver, oblivious to his curt answers and lack of eye contact. She mentioned the weather (‘bonny’), how she’d counted out her change to be ready just for him (‘1.50 on the nose, thankfully I found that extra 5p in my pocket!’), and that she was going to the ASDA for her weekly shop (‘I always do on a Thursday’).

As this lady walked down the aisle she looked and made eye contact with almost everyone. Rule 1 in the Laws of Interacting With Strangers is Don’t Ever Make Eye Contact. You are basically giving all those people permission to talk to you, to interact with you, and you have no idea what could happen next.

Another aside: I have been known to be an ‘Eye Looker’. I look everyone in the eye as they pass, and I sometimes smile if they make eye contact with me. One day, I did this, and ended up spending the next 30 minutes on a street corner in Rochester, MN talking to a woman who was an 87 year old, chain smoking, mail order bride from Russia. She was nice enough, but she was Crazy. I try to limit my ‘eye looking’ to days when I don’t have much to do.

This lady on the bus had absolutely no regard for these rules. She looked everyone, even the drunk people, square in the eyes, smiled, and proceeded down the aisle. Although there were many open seats on the bus, she chose one sitting next to another woman, directly in front of me. She smiled at the woman, and sat down. She was quiet for a few moments as the bus pulled back into traffic. I could see her sizing the lady next to her up- it was almost like she was deciding the best way to initiate an interaction. This is the 2nd rule of the Laws of Interacting With Strangers- if no one has said anything to you, you don’t have to start anything. But this lady… she went right ahead, complimented the bus rider on her shoes, and asked her where she was off to on ‘such a bonny day’.

I took off one of my headphones (tactic to avoid talking to strangers) and eavesdropped on these two women chatting. They were lovely. Perhaps it’s that Aberdeen has a small town, everyone-knows-everyone feel, or that they were just both extremely kind people, but they were both very willing to chat away to each other. They somehow got onto their kids and grandkids, realizing that their grandsons played football (soccer) together. It was a lovely thing to watch. I was watching a relationship form. It was really… refreshing.

When the bus got near to the ASDA, the ladies were wrapping up their conversation, saying that they’d probably see each other at one of the upcoming matches. And the one lady got up. She didn’t have my vantage point, but I saw the driver look in his mirror at her as she rose, and slow down a bit, so that the stop wouldn’t be quite as jolting. This could’ve been because of her age, or it could’ve been, and I choose to believe that this is the reason, because he wanted to do something nice for her, in his small way. Perhaps he appreciated that she was oblivious to him acting like a stranger to her. She instantly brought him, the lady sitting next to her, and me all into her world. She welcomed us in, in fact. I admired her willingness to connect, her openness to the possibility that it’s worth saying hi to someone, and to try to find a way to connect with them, regardless of the potential risks. I thought it was really lovely the way she didn’t give anyone a choice in whether or not they would be part of her world. She just made it so.

As she rose and gathered her bag, I caught her eye, and we both smiled.


  1. smiling at strangers is one of the best things in the world. i have a friend visiting from San Fran. and he's SHOCKED at how people in NYC seem dismiss and/or get offended if you smile at them while walking/ordering food/sitting on the bus.... i'm saddened that some NYCers do this. I try my best to make eye contact, smile, acknowledge that that other person exists. it makes us all feel like we're, like you said about that woman, welcomed into each others world. its a common regard for a fellow human being. at least, thats what i think. xo

  2. I used to very much be one of those look at you in the eyes and smile people, but I've lost that since moving here and recognising that many people here want to just be in their own bubble. How foolish of me to assume that the bubbles are opaque and that my smile could not penetrate them.

    You've inspired me to pop a few bubbles.

  3. Very sweet, Sarah. This made me laugh and tear up.

    Have you ever read something and thought, "Man, I wonder if I had been in their shoes, would I have had that some wonderful experience?"

    That's how I felt when I read this.