Fearing the Stranger

A few weeks ago I was stranded at Port Authority Bus Station in NYC for several hours whilst Trailways decided which bus schedule they were going to stick to. Sitting with my back against the wall, my copious luggage strewn around my feet with no make up and my hair haphazardly bunched in pigtails, I somehow construed the message I was a slightly naive fifteen year old with excess cash waiting to go home to Mommy and Daddy. I’m sure the half pretzel-dog I was clinging to cemented this image. The fact that I was twenty-one, midway on my travels across the States, making a brief stop at a cocktail reception on my way, was apparently lost on all who saw me. (I was going to change.)

We are taught from a young age not to talk to strangers, yet I have the misfortune of having a face or a presence which often invites strangers to talk to me. In the past, it has caused me to attract directions from drunkards and one unfortunate evening I was chased/followed by a strange man down a dark street. However, on this particular instance I attracted two memorable new friends.

My first was a haphazard woman asking for money because she swore she had just been mugged. She ignored all varieties of personal space and couldn’t stop twitching. She encouraged all sorts of police observation from the cafe across the corridor and I later realized she was probably high. However, she seemed friendly enough and I did give her some change, much to the loud tutting of my new minder-cop. (Judge as you will.)

My second was a man equally as laden down with luggage as I was. He asked if I could guard his bags whilst he went to get a ticket. In a moment of sheer panic, I tried desperately to think of a polite way to say “no” without parroting some government incentive. Once again, I swore I could hear my minder tutting, but my new “friend” was about to dash off.

He saw me eying his luggage precariously, trying to fathom where I thought he could have stashed the bomb and asked “You’re not going to run off with them are you?”

“No,” I quipped. “I think I have enough with my own.”

“That’s what I said to my roommate before he asked me to carry a package for him,” said the “friend” before laughing hysterically at my facial expression and running off. So I kept a firm visual fixture on his back at the ticket counter, the cop slowly shaking his head at me across the way and my exit strategy. Of course, nothing happened. The man came back and collected his bags, the cop moved on and the repairmen fixed the escalator across from me so I could actually wait at my gate for Trailways to get organized.

All was fabulous.
It did make me wonder though how awful it is that we cannot trust our fellow travelers, and that we fear strange interaction. My travels across America have relied upon the New Yorker who ran after me with my dropped purse, the driver outside Charleston who circled my car on a freeway ramp for ten minutes to tell me I didn’t have my lights on (it took ten minutes because I had a minor meltdown thinking he was trying to pull me over to kill me) and the copious others who have given themselves back injuries carrying my overweight micro-suitcase up many long staircases. I should have been mugged an extraordinary number of times while I haphazardly dragged open bags across sidewalks whilst sleep-deprived. But I was not. I owe a lot to my fellow travelers that I somehow ended up on the West Coast at all.
Thus I insist we all take the chance to embrace our fellow travelers — perhaps not literally, it’s very hot this time of year in enclosed spaces — and to stop fearing the stranger. Hell, they’re only strange for about five minutes anyway, and if it lasts longer than that it’s always ok to move on. You never know just what you’re about to learn. And in the case of turning your headlamps on down a freeway, your life will probably be a lot better off for it.

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