Need an example? When was the last time you struck up a conversation with someone in an elevator? Seriously, we’ll stare at our shoes, we’ll stare at the floor indicators, we’ll stare at the control panel; we’ll even stare at other peoples shoes, bags, and coats. We’ll pretty much do anything possible to avoid interaction. I suppose I could understand avoiding strangers during the avian flu pandemic panic; but if you just take a flu shot we should all be fair game for conversation.
Need more? Go stand in the line at the drivers’ license bureau or county tax office. You may very well be standing next to someone for two hours, but hell would freeze over before you would acknowledge that person. Unless, of course, he’s got some form you don’t have and you’re wondering what you’re missing. It seems that in most places it’s rude to strike up a conversation with a total stranger. Except in Texas, where it’s considered rude not to speak to your “stand in line” buddy. There’s no caste system in Texas. A suit will chat with a guy who stands in scuffed work boots. When I stood in line during the last presidential election, we were talking across the lines. White, Black, Hispanic, Asian … we talked. It was a beautiful thing. Texas is such a friendly state; I don’t know why they call it the Lone Star State. They should call it the Friendly State.
Lately I've been spending quite a bit of time flying from one interview from the next. Airports are great for people watching and we put on quite a show. Travelers wheel their bags with reckless abandon, cutting in front of people constantly as they chat on their cell phones. Or, they’re looking up at gate signs and walk into you as though you don’t exist. And I wonder how the airlines allow their employees to speed down concourses in those fancy “golf carts.” If we drove the way they drive; we’d be uninsurable. Another thing I see is travelers using the moving sidewalks to get from one end of the terminal building to the other. Many of these people are in a hurry, many aren’t. The folks who have plenty of time stand to the left and prevent the ones in a hurry from getting past them. Perhaps Samsonite will put a siren in their next model of carry-on so the “laggers” will move to the right. But if you’re in that much of a hurry, why don’t you just walk fast or even do an OJ Simpson and run through the airport using your own legs? And don’t get me started on how loud folks talk on their cell phone. For people who won’t talk to strangers, we seem to have no need for privacy. Some conversations are so personal I almost feel guilty for listening. Almost.
Fact is, airports are really annoying places. Some have terminals have free Wi-Fi; some try to make you pay for a connection. Good luck finding an outlet to charge your laptop prior the flight; and better luck not tripping over someone’s cord. And really, what’s with the PA announcements? Putting a microphone in the hands of a gate agent is a recipe for disaster. Maybe they think they’re paid by the word. Recently, while waiting for a flight out of Atlanta, over a twenty minute span, I heard the flight attendant remind travelers to Canada a dozen times they needed their passport to board. I come from a background in radio broadcasting, believe me, I know repetition, but that was simply ridiculous. After all, if they need their passport to get back to Canada, chances are they needed it to get into the United States. I’m convinced people run out and get the latest gadget just before they fly to show other travelers the latest model of iPad, iPod, and Android. We don’t have to wait for the mail delivery, we just email, get our news online (do we still surf?), update our “status” to tell everyone that we have nothing more important to do than tell friends who we never met where we are and what we’re doing as though somehow it matters. Actually, it does matter. I found out my son broke his ankle on Facebook. He didn’t think to call, because he had updated his status.
Here’s my favorite travel observation. We’ll sit in an airplane, crammed like olives in a jar, for three or four hours and not say a word to the person next to us. But once we land, somehow relieved, we start asking the traditional questions: “Vacation or business,” “Is this home?” “Where did you start your travels?” “How long have you lived here?” “How long have you been gone?” In essence, as we taxi to the jetway, we learn more about our travel mate in four minutes than we did in the past three hours.
On the other side, once you start a conversation, there’s no way out of it. A few weeks ago, the passenger next to me was playing with her new iPad. I couldn’t resist and broke the “cone of silence.” Next thing I knew, I was getting a product demo and watching home movies, pictures of her grandchildren and a complete family history. After all that conversation, we never exchanged names. To return to my DNA mode, I feigned a few yawns and nodded off. I had a friend who once met a woman on a flight to California. The flight was a red-eye and with lots of empty seats. The woman explained she was going to LA to become an actress. As her story unfolded, she started talking about breast augmentation and before he knew it, the woman lifted her blouse and had him confirm, by touch, how real her breasts felt and looked. As I write this, my fellow passenger is about 6’5”, built like a linebacker, and is snoring like a heard of buffalo.
No-one ever said life is fair. That’s probably in our DNA, too.