My Roommate Talks to Strangers on Subways

When we’re both in our kitchen together, my roommate and I tend to have very in depth, funny, and deep conversations. I’m extremely lucky to have her as a roommate- we were strangers who met through Craigslist and we get along extremely well.

We’ve known each other only three months but we talk about everything from meditation to relationships to street harassment to retirement accounts with an equal degree of ease. Our roommate relationship can only be described as a rare personality click.

The other day she described the conversations she has with random people on the subway. I was surprised to hear this- she doesn’t seem like the sort to have impromptu conversations with strangers on public transportation. She’s a fairly quiet and unassuming girl, tiny and thoughtful- a 29 year old english professor and writer who listens to calming music and chills in her room a lot.

She thinks that people probably open up to her because she enjoys hearing their stories; they may sense her friendliness and feel a green light. It’s true that she always gets me opening up, so I guess her energy works with subway people as well.

I recounted to her that as of late I rarely talk to anyone in transit- even though I travel all the time. I used to have lots of conversations with new people at airports and on planes- in fact that’s actually how I met my ex-boyfriend. But lately I’d been using the old ‘kindle and headphone’ trick to stop people from talking to me before they started. My job involves a ton of talking and lately the last thing I wanted to do on a flight to or from work was to talk.

Sometimes while I'm traveling I'll look up from my Kindle to take a funny photo of fellow travelers, but I've rarely talked to them anymore.

Sometimes while I’m traveling I’ll look up from my Kindle to take a funny photo of fellow travelers, but I’ve rarely talked to them anymore.

But after my roommate told me her subway stories, I began to crave conversation with fellow travelers again. “Just be open,” she said. “They’ll sense it.”

And they did.

Once I felt open to listening again, people began to talk. It was like magic. I turned off my kindle and took off my headphones and I met the LA shuttle driver I talked about in my last post. And on my flight from LA, I met an accountant who used to sell time shares and lived in Cancun. There was a young mom chaperoning a crew of girl scouts on the way back from Dallas, various folk from New Orleans, Vancouver, and Hungary at a recent hostel, and a really cool travel blogger named Jo (Indiana Jo) who apparently travels 9 months out of the year and lived in a cave for awhile.

Both being an open listener and a closed privacy-craver have their pros and cons. I heartily enjoy hearing stories and learning about other places and lives, and travel conversation is a great way to do so. But I haven’t yet talked to strangers on the subway…maybe I’m just not open to that yet.

Sometimes, though, it’s nice to just sit quietly while in transit. Like now, I’m actually sitting and writing this on a bus to Philadelphia, while the man next to me sleeps soundly against the window. We never said hi to each other. By the time I got to my seat he was already tuned out and closed off with his kindle and his headphones.

I understood.

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