Saturday, May 06, 2006

There was that time that the man with the Southern accent was talking loudly about how no one else was talking

On my first day of orientation at Georgetown, I met another woman who had just moved to Washington from California. “Have you noticed how much less friendly everyone here is?” she asked in a low voice. I shook my head. So far everyone had seemed very pleasant. A few of my neighbors had introduced themselves the night that we were moving things into our new apartment from our U-haul trailer. The bus driver on the route that went by my house had been helpful in explaining how to get various places. The majority of the people I knew so far I had met that day in orientation, and of course they had all be very outgoing and friendly. Earlier in the summer, when I’d visited to find a place to live, I’d had a grand time with some women I’d met in the hostel where I’d stayed, and several of the prospective landlords had been friendly and helpful when they learned I was new to the area. Basically, everyone seemed great to me.

But eventually I did begin to see the difference. It wasn’t necessarily a difference between being in a big city and being in a beach/college town. The friend who had pointed out the difference had been living in Los Angeles. The place where I really started to notice the difference was on the Metro.

The summer after college, I worked for The Husband’s aunt at a law firm in Oakland (we call that “nephew-tism”), commuting on BART from Martinez. I always had a newspaper or book with me, but most days I had at least one conversation either on a train or in a station, with someone I didn’t know. People would comment on the banana slug on my sweatshirt (um, it was a rather casual law office) or the book I was reading. They would sit down on the bench where I was waiting with a big sigh, and I could ask them, “Long day?” One day, on a crowded Pittsburg-Bay Point train, a seat near me opened up. A man in a business suit gestured for me to take it. I smiled at him and sat down. A few minutes later, as the train pulled into the Walnut Creek station, I felt someone lightly touch my shoulder. The man who had let me sit down was looking down at me. I met his gaze, and he winked at me, handed me a business card, and made his way toward the door. (I tossed the card when I got to North Concord-Martinez, but I made sure to tell The Husband about it when I called him that night.)

On Metro, there aren’t the same casual conversations. Occasionally some tourists will ask me for directions and I may chat with them for a bit about getting around, the museums they want to visit, or places to eat near their hotel. But the casual conversations with other commuters are few and far between—they pretty much only happen when buses are running late or the weather is doing something extreme . Mostly it’s not something I notice, and I don’t mind having quiet commutes.

I’ve noticed it this week, because people seem to be breaking the rules. They are talking to me. I picked up a copy of Isabel Allende’s most recent novel, Zorro. People notice the cover and say something. They want to know about the book. Is it really about that Zorro? Is it the traditional story? Is it good? On Thursday and Friday, every time I got on a train and once when I got on a bus, someone had something to say. And while their questions and comments do take me away from the book (which, like every other story I’ve read by Allende, has me totally captivated), I enjoy this chance to talk with random people. It’s occurred to me that if I want to meet new people, I should just continue to carry this book around with me, tucking whatever I’m really reading inside. But that might be weird.


Rebecca said...

Would you say Zorro is better or worse than Eva Luna? I'm reading Eva right now and am enjoying it, though I'm not completely enraptured. So if Zorro is better, maybe it would suck me in like Eva hasn't quite managed to do.

The Sister said...

That sounds a little like the playboy inside the car magazine. There's a thought...carry a playboy with you on your commute. I bet someone would have something to say about that.

cocoricamo said...

..and suddenly, there are a few more copies of Zorro sold... :)

agreed w/ the (well written!) post -- i did a switch-up from san fran to dc and it's a whole 'nother beast, really.

Elizabeth said...

Rebecca: I think I do like Zorro better than Eva Luna. But I wouldn't put it in the same tier as House of the Spirits or The Stories of Eva Luna.

Lauren: It's a thought. Let's leave it at that, shall we?

mothergoosemouse said...

Interesting - when I moved from Washington DC to New York, I found people much less sociable. I did think it was funny that in DC, everyone knows that on Metro escalators, you stand on the right, walk on the left. In the NYC subway system, everyone STANDS on the escalators. I had to ask people to move aside so that I could walk (even on the down escalator). You can imagine how thrilled they were.

Moving from NYC out west to Colorado - that has been pleasant. Even the people at the DMV are nice.