Traveling alone last week gave me the chance to talk to strangers that I normally wouldn’t do if accompanied by family.
Returning from New York City on the suburban commuter train, I chatted with a young woman who was carrying paraphernalia from the NY Rangers Hockey game. That led to a conversation about the weather, and the polar vortex predictions that would bring unfathomable sub-zero temperatures to the region. “Yeah, my mother wants me to wear my grandmother’s fur coat tomorrow, “ she said, “but I’m worried about animal rights people.” Having inherited my grandmother’s fur coat , I encouraged her to wear hers, reassuring her that I haven’t encountered any problems and it would provide the warmest protection. We reached our stop and said good-bye, wishing each other to stay warm.
The next day, I left for Wyoming. On my first flight, I talked with my neighbor, a mathematics professor about to begin a semester at the University of Colorado in Boulder having spent the last five years teaching at Oxford, England. Previously, he’d taught at Vassar, my alma mater, though wasn’t there when I was. Our conversation turned to what anyone talks about if at all connected with the UK: Downton Abbey. He told me the entire village on screen is created in a tiny corner of Oxford and that the series’ author, Julian Fellowes and much of the cast are graduates of Cambridge, arch rival of Oxford.
I had a three -hour layover in Denver before catching the little puddle jumper to Worland, WY. I camped out next to an extended family from Saskatchewan Canada—grandparents, children and grandchildren, 7 in all, who had spent 10 days in Houston visiting family. They had been at the airport all day waiting for their connecting flight to Minot, North Dakota, where they then had a four hour drive home. They shrugged off the cold temperatures plaguing the northeast; minus zero winters are typical for them.
Leaving Wyoming, I met a woman, Christine on her way home to northern California. She’d spent the week watching her mother die of a brain tumor and subsequently cremated her. Her mother, 75, had succumbed after fighting the tumor for 3 ½ years. Christine shared that she had lockets made for her four siblings holding tiny bits of the remains inside. We chatted about parents and aging, exercise- she swears by cross-fit- and juicing diets. (She does; I don’t.)
On the return flight to Newark, I sat next to a woman who, with her husband and three children, 9 –year- old twin daughters and a six-year-old son, were on their way back to Scotland where her husband is involved in a bridge building project. We talked about living as expatriates, schools, and the differences between UK and US cultures. She’d been stranded in Denver a week, waiting for the weather to clear, and hoped their luggage, containing all the childrens’ Christmas presents was waiting for them in Newark. We were each engaged in our books and read most the way home.
Making connections when traveling is much more than catching the next plane. Traveling is more than the destination; it’s the journey.
How about you? Do you talk to seatmates on planes and trains?