Random Acts of Strangers

The news last night ran a story about a blogger who is performing random acts of kindness each day for a year. Apparently he is an Internet Sensation. Apparently he is pretty well off too, because it all seemed to be about giving away luxury goods or paying for other people’s dinner. I admit I sighed a bit, although I am sure he intends well, and I am glad he is doing it, if weary that such activity is seen as newsworthy (a bit like the recent naked selfies craze – honestly, is it so brave for women not to wear make-up? Mutter, mumble, snarl…)

Meanwhile, casting abut for a topic to inflict upon my loyal but battered readers, I came across the following in WordPress’s 365 Days of Writing Prompts:

Have you ever had a random encounter or fleeting moment with a stranger that stuck with you?

Well, I have certainly had lots of weird and wonderful encounters, usually on long train journeys or waiting for trains or sitting in hotel lobbies. It occurs to me that much of my job is taken up with waiting.

Most of them have been reasonably pleasant, some a bit creepy and some very profound. The most profound were not really fleeting if you call an entire morning substantial. When I was commuting weekly from London to Yorkshire and back I had several interesting and useful conversations on the train with various other people doing the same thing. It usually started with me trying to read a book about configuring Exchange Servers or how to do sub-net masking or the intricacies of Project Management (in summary, use wax crayons and post-it notes. I see now that Agile is flavour of the month we back to that again, except now it has some “cool” jargon to go with it; and yes, that does deserve quotation marks. Plus ça change…)

Anyway, the train people: they often told me things. Many of the commuters were senior manager types who were happy to share their wisdom to someone who showed an interest, so I had long conversations about Deming and Open Source and Servant Leadership and all kinds of groovy things. It made the railway coffee drinkable at least.

That’s a handy tip for you, gratis. If you want to have an interesting conversation on a long journey carry a prop, such as an inconveniently heavy textbook to signal your credentials as a person worth engaging. It’s amazing how often this works, but then train journeys are mind-numbingly boring and being able to talk to someone who doesn’t have their eyes on video games and their ears leaking bass lines is a real treat. Try and make it one that can lead to an introductory question and then you are away. Do not, however, try the trick I came across last week.

I usually book a seat for my journeys so that I don’t have to scuffle for one and can relax getting on the train. I am more than happy to move anyone on who has sat in my place, either in error, or hope, or stupidity. Last week I found a young female in my seat and asked her to move, but she claimed to have a reservation. She was clearly wrong, but as the seat next to her was free anyway, I sat in it. I don’t need to sit in the exact seat; any will do.

A besuited gentleman sat down opposite. She had put her suitcase on his seat, and he was going to move it but then realised he could sit opposite me as that was free as well. We all settled down and the inconvenient miss burbled on about how crowded the trains were and how she had just been to a wedding and it was totes amazeballs (well, she actually said “amazing,” but she said it quite a lot and she meant totes amazeballs; you could tell) and she had held a 6 day old baby and he was totes amazeballs too and now she was going home and that was, well, you get the picture.

The suited man and I nodded and agreed that things were, in general, totes amazeballs, and wasn’t it nice to see the sun after such a dull winter. If we were being a little condescending, forgive us. Speaking for myself at least, I was envious of her joy in small things and wide-eyed optimism about life. That’s because I am a curmudgeonly old Baglady, and if I mock her idiom it’s at least with some affection. Every generation has its new formula for speaking the English as they feel she should be spoke. For myself, I am intrigued: I was fascinated to meet a woman once who had left England for the heady excitement of Switzerland in her twenties and not lived here since the 1950s. As a result she did not know what some basic words meant in her alleged mother tongue, including “roundabout” as an example. How amazeballls is that?

She kept on prattling gaily like a butterfly on acid, but once she learned I worked in IT (which is apparently like, not at all amazeballs, duh) she turned her attention to the gent. They always do, in my experience. It’s probably hard-coded in the DNA or something: here is a successful provider who could ensure she and potential future children were kept fed and warm.

Then she blew it.

“That’s a totes amazeballs pen,” she chirruped as he made some notes in his important manager’s leather-bound diary.

“Thank you.”

“Can I take a photo?” and she whipped out her mobile and snapped the instrument before he could blink.

“Wait, what? You’re not putting that on-line are you?” he gurgled, a bit panicky. Maybe he thought she was conducting industrial espionage on his calendar. Maybe she was. Damn good disguise Amazeballs in fact, like totally.

“I just want a picture so I can find it in a shop and get one.”

Pull the other one, love, it’s got bells on. How much writing do you actually do? Even I hardly use a pen and I write all the time.

The damage was done. He huffed a bit and stopped talking to her. I snorted a bit and sent coffee through my nose, in an attractive and ladylike way I’m sure. She realised she had gone too far and staggered off the train at York apologising for existing. I could have told her: watch your boundaries, especially in the nebulous confines of a public space. Try not to come across all paparazzi.

That is why a passive book is a good prop for conversation and a mobile phone-camera is not. Unless you are a secret agent, in which case, either is a good choice.

Weird travellers, I’ve seen a few. What are your brief encounters like?

Namaste.

 

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5 thoughts on “Random Acts of Strangers

  1. I had an encounter recently. I was in a shop with my husband, but he wandered off on his own and a nice-looking man about my age commented on the item I was considering. I said something like, “Yeah, but I’m not buying it.” and walked away. Later I thought I might have looked rude, or maybe he thought I was single and he was ‘chatting me up” I’ll never know if it bothered him of course. Still I felt I’d slighted the guy somehow.

    Then there was the time I was looking for a card, a young man sidled up to me and started talking, very obviously ‘chatting me up.’ I was embarrassed, flattered and a little creeped out somehow.

    One very beautiful thing happened in a Whole Foods store, I let the man behind me go ahead since he had just the one item. I didn’t have much more, but he paid for my groceries as well as his drink.

  2. Good post EBL, made me laugh. Last (Bank Holiday) Monday as I drove into my apartment car park there was an old man waiting for a bus into town. No bus was going to come. I thought about offering him a lift but went inside and made myself a cup of coffee instead.

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