If you’ve been keeping up with some of my posts, then there are a couple of things you already know about me:
1) I’m an old country girl, which immediately brings to mind that episode of Little House on the Prairie where the Ingalls girls were mocking that hateful Nellie Olson. (No, I did not grow up on a prairie, and no, I did not wear the same dress every day. In fact I rarely wore dresses at all.)
2) I was a Union representative. For sixteen years I represented the little guy against employer abuses and upheld the provisions of our collective bargaining agreement to the best of my ability.
- In this endeavor, I served in many roles at various (and sometimes simultaneous) times, culminating in President for my state organization and arbitration advocate for my region.
It’s this latter that had me traveling all over the country. I traveled to teach, to be taught, and to represent both my state organization and the people in it.
I’ve been to several cities from New York to Los Angeles, and from Detroit to Houston. I’ve traveled by air, bus, train, and automobile. I’ve been gone for a consecutive day or two, and I’ve been gone for a consecutive week or two. Once, I flew from home to Pittsburgh with only a briefcase, conducted my business, and then was back home again in time for dinner.
And each time, every single time, it made me a little nervous.
I recall telling someone once that you can take the girl out of the country, but as soon as she sees all the bright lights and city streets, she just goes a little nuts. I can’t say that the sentiment applies to everybody. All I know is that it applies to me. I never quite got used to it.
Everywhere that’s not here is a little brighter and busier than I find comfortable.
Despite my discomfort, or maybe because of it, I’m the lady who strikes up random conversations with strangers who refuse to make eye contact while waiting for a bus. I get cabbies talking about their childhoods and I inform whoever is seated next to me on a plane, all uptight and bunched up in fear of touching me, that it’s okay to relax a little.
They all look at me like I’m the crazy one. They don’t trust me because, in the words of one, I’m just too friendly.
Maybe it’s a country thing, or maybe it’s just a southern thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s just a me thing.
Once, while in Los Angeles, I wanted to go to a particular store, one that we just don’t have here. I found one on the internet whose address was about fifteen miles away from my hotel. I asked at the guest services counter for cab rates, and was told that it would be about a forty dollar trip one way. A bus trip, while costing much less, would have required several hours and several exchanges.
I opted for the cab.
The driver and I had such a good time on the way to my destination that he offered to wait for me for the trip back, un-metered. That’s right. I paid him when he dropped me off, and he went and parked someplace for about twenty minutes with the meter off, and then started driving around the block until I came out of the store.
We had an equally good time on the way back, talking about our kids, today’s youth, the follies of old people. Just…. you know…. life. And we laughed. He said he’d not had that good a time in ages, especially with a fare, and he expressed genuine gratitude that he’d been next in line when a member of the hotel staff had waved the next cab.
I am equally grateful that he was the driver.
While hiding in my hotel room, afraid to venture too far out into the streets of Los Angeles, I reflected on some of my conversation with the cabby, and marveled that I was able to connect with one of this city’s strangers so well.
And then I recounted some of my other travels to brightly lit, well-paved areas. In each of them I managed to have no trouble with conversation despite the efforts of these people to flat out ignore me.
After hours of reflection and proper consideration, I now think I know the problem. I know why people who live in big cities seem unfriendly.
It lies not with crowds and crowds of city dwellers who are striving with every breath to remain invisible.
It lies instead with a significant lack of southerners among them.
We see you. And we’ll bring out the chatty best in you every single time.