Text: Why I talk to strangers
We sit down knowing that we're only together for a set amount of time. Then we have a choice to talk — to talk about the weather or to seize the delectable anonymity and talk deeply about our lives, knowing we never have to see each other again.
I live in a small-ish town and don't use a cab very often. But as I stop and think of the times that I have, I remember quite clearly despite the night time setting of ungodly hours.
One of my first memories is being pulled out of a cab by my mom when I was little. We were in New York City and I wouldn’t ride in a taxi again for another decade.
Then Los Angeles. One moment I’m walking down a crosswalk with my best friend and the next we are running down the aisle of cars racing against the changing stoplight to make it to the cab. Our new friends from the Lumineers concert we just left are showing us around.
My memories of that night are filled with the pulse of the street lights and signs flashing past as we rode around the city. Catching that cab with my best friend afforded us the freedom but the rides still remain only a backdrop for these times rather than their own experiences.
It wasn’t until I got older that I began to appreciate the value in the mysterious figure at the wheel more than being a gatekeeper from one place to another. I was sitting in an Uber in D.C. at 2 a.m. My editor caused us to miss our flight and then gave our driver the wrong address in a completely different part of the city. I’d been in the cab for too long. Suddenly, the silhouette of the guy in the front seat starts telling me about himself, spilling an entire past life in journalism being shared with me at the very beginning of my own career.
This ride began a trend of breaking down the barriers.
These are some of my favorites:
The first time I used a cab in Eugene, it was probably about 2 a.m. and I, somehow, got a job offer for social media marketing by the end of the ride. (I didn’t take it, but hey, that was cool.)
Next, there was a big, burly, heavily-tattooed man who looked like he might be gruff and grumpy. We sang Zombie by The Cranberries together as we sped down Franklin boulevard. He talked to me about his love of gardening that began with the legalization of marijuana in Oregon.
The sun was coming up when I shook hands with another older gentleman as he told me to get out of his cab and go save the world. We had just finished talking about journalism and its role as the fourth estate. We sat there for 20 minutes in the driveway, even though the ride itself was only 10 minutes.
My most recent and favorite experiences have actually happened in Portland.
I was returning from a concert with one of my best friends and it was a Lyft driver, not a cabby. He was kind and young. He opens up the conversation with: “I've had a crazy night. I just opened up an $8,000 check and I don't know if I should cash it or not.” We talked more about the emotional debts than the financial gains.
And the other one happened just this week on my way to the Portland airport. His name was Omar. He had a soft, even voice that came from a tangly beard just as black as the leather seats. It smelled nice and reggae played quietly.
When I got in the car, I realized I was still holding a tube of toothpaste which led to a chat about the decision making that goes into dental hygiene. But suddenly we're talking about things I really only talk about with my therapist.
Thinking about my family and the upcoming holidays, I said things are kind of messy. They always have been, but I'm afraid anyways.
Now it's Omar's turn.
"I just had a kid and I'm melting down. I tried to hold off on this, but I love my girl, you know? I love her and it’s what she wanted. And now I worry that this energy, these feelings, are gonna do something to him, to the baby."
"I don't know anything about being a parent,” I said. “But someone once told me that being a parent is constantly thinking you could have done better.” Queue the nervous laughter.
We talked about our own upbringings — vague maps with the readability of a ballpoint pen on a wet napkin, left to us to guide the rest of our lives.
"I think it's really normal to be scared."
"It is?" he asked.
"Oh absolutely, it'd be weird if you weren’t."
Then our 30 minutes ended in front of the airport with a nod, some sort of recognition of the honest-to-god humanity we so briefly shared.
There is an invaluable opportunity to skip the toothpaste talk. Looking at these rides and interactions, I see an evolution in myself through the curiosity and confessions of a passenger. Allowing yourself a moment of shared honesty with someone so removed might be exactly what is needed as we all speed toward our own destinations.