Conversations with Strangers

Today, I rode the Metro by myself for the first time.

In fact, today was the first day I’d ever tackled any sort of public transportation alone.

Oh, I’ve ridden the subway with my boyfriend many times—most recently here in DC, earlier in New York City and Hiroshima—but when I’m with him, I basically only have to worry about not falling down when the train stops. He generally keeps track of when we move and change and how to get where we’re going. And I’ve ridden with my sister—in Atlanta and, long ago, in Manila—but in Atlanta she knew what we were doing, and in Manila neither of us knew what we were doing. And I was 16, she was 14, so that’s a completely different kind of story.

But today, I rode the Metro. By myself.

I know. By emphasizing that point, I sound like the clod-hoppingest bumpkin ever. But we don’t really do public transportation down south. Things are too far apart. It’s ok. I’ve made my peace: I have other strengths.

But I rode the Metro today. And the outbound trip was uneventful—I was preoccupied with not missing my stop and was completely fascinated by the way people interact—or don’t interact—with each other in this space. (Seriously, it is so weird. Not to sound crazy, but we can’t say good morning? Seriously?) But nothing really happened. I text messaged my best friend about orientation nerves and that was that.

But the trip coming home was freaking fascinating.

When I got on train, I was in strict “follow the code” mode. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone and my headphones were in to protect me from the dreadful possibility of having to interact with a stranger. But the seats across from me were occupied by three obviously out-of-towners who kept getting up to look at the station map. So I asked if they were visiting.

And I met the most fascinating women. They were electricians from Oregon, in town for a conference next week promoting women in non-traditional fields. Dude. And so I started asking questions, after indicating my deep and abiding interest in all things gender.

We talked opportunities for women, we talked birth control laws (I referenced this piece, which you should read immediately if you haven’t already), we talked Mitt Romney and Todd Akin. And by the time they got out of the train, the conversation was arcing over several seats, including all sorts of people—the out-of-towners, the new-in-towners, the old-hatters—talking about politics and laws and all the general craziness that has overwhelmed the front pages lately. Had it gone another 5 minutes, it probably would have gotten ugly, but it stopped at just the right time. Nobody got angry, people just expressed their opinions.

And it was freaking fantastic. I’ve never had more fun.

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