Hitch Hikers : Inescapable Conversation

It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist. Do you try to switch seats, go for a non-committal brief small talk, or make this person your new best friend?

Ah, I love the daily prompt. Blogging is difficult for me, because, as it turns out, I don’t have a whole lot to say. These lovely little ideas are all it takes for me to participate. And yet, quite often, I don’t. Today’s question didn’t seem to have much to offer me at first. What could I say in response to this that would be different, unique, or at least worth reading?

I thought about what I have done in this situation. I’ve never ridden on a train, and I’ve never been on any bus other than a school bus. What a sheltered life I’ve lived! I can barely remember the last time I was on a plane. When I was, I was seated next to people I knew.

Still, I understood the question completely. I suppose that’s because, like everyone who ventures outside their home from time to time, I’ve been in this situation, if not in that exact setting. I’m the kind of person who can elicit conversations with strangers without having to sit down. More than once I’ve been stopped in the grocery store by a stranger with an opinion. It always starts with a simple question. Some current even or general state of affairs. Sometimes it’s as simple as a complaint about prices. When I respond, I craft my answer as well as I can to the personality of the stranger. After all, I’d rather have a conversation with a stranger than an argument with a stranger. But then I can end up standing there with a shopping cart, talking for fifteen minutes or more with a person who might not have a name. Doctor’s offices, mechanic shops or just waiting in line somewhere. It can happen anywhere. The most disconcerting thing is when the guy at the next urinal strikes up a conversation. That happened last week, and I don’t know anything about minor league baseball! What was I supposed to say?

Of all the possible chatty stranger settings, the one that is inescapable is my own car. I’ve spent a lot of time on the highway. When I see someone who needs a ride, I stop and pick them up. If I have someone else with me in the car, I might not. Or if the car is too packed for passengers. Otherwise, I’ll pick up just about any hitch hiker. I once even picked up a guy who was carrying a rifle out in the open. No, I’m not crazy, I just saw his pickup broken down shortly before that, so I reasoned that he didn’t want to leave the gun there while he walked to town. I don’t recommend that for everyone.

When you have a total stranger in your passenger seat, then you can’t ignore them. You can’t switch seats. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Some don’t say much. That can almost be worse. Are they being quiet just so they won’t be annoying? If so, should I say something to make them comfortable? Then again, considering that they’re depending on a stranger for a ride, maybe they’re not in a conversational mood. What to do?

The talkative ones, though, that’s a lot more uncomfortable. Sometimes you get lucky and end up with someone charming and intelligent. More often, you get dull, droning, meandering endless talk. Some will gossip about people I don’t know. Some are hard to understand. Some are total lunatics that say things so strange, I don’t know how to answer. I’ve picked up more than one guy who wanted to tell me all about his mental problems and the related therapy. That sounds made up, but it’s true. I once picked up a woman who read to me at length from some god awful romance novel. I’ve picked up a few fairly loud, spiritual types who want to spend that time proselytizing. I’ve picked up some with speech impediments that make them difficult to understand, the most memorable was Thtan, who was going home to Arkanthah. Spend an hour or more next to someone you can’t escape by any means. It’s enough to make you wish were less of a good samaritan.

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