Over the past two days I've shared a few stories of times when I consciously went against my nature and decided to talk to strangers. Here is another such story (after this I'll shut up about my personality and find something better to talk about).
On Tuesday as I went to the FedEx location on S.R. 23 in South Bend to return some rental gear to LensRentals¹ I noticed a man standing out in front of his green Volvo 240 wagon with the hood up, talking with one of the guys from the AutoZone in the strip mall. I've been a fan of 240's for a while now and I thought about going over to say hi, but I decided instead to just take my packages in and drop them off at the Pack & Ship counter. "Maybe if they're still out there when I come out of FedEx," I thought, "maybe then I'll say hi." Well, they weren't there when I came out of FedEx - in fact they were heading in to AutoZone. I decided to drive over next to the 240 just to take a look at the vehicle since, as mentioned, I am a fan of 240's.
Then it got weird.²
I found myself getting out of my car and walking into AutoZone. The guy who presumably owned the 240 was just checking out, having purchased a battery terminal cleaning brush. I intercepted him on the way out of the store. "Are you the guy with the 240 out there?" He affirmed that he was indeed that guy. I mumbled something back about how that was cool and how I noticed it because I had a Volvo too. "It was a real nice car until a deer met the front end of it," he mentioned. I agreed that this sort of thing is liable to mess a car up. "So what's going on with it?" I asked, unintentionally (but probably beneficially) using my most helpful OIT Help Desk tone.³ He told me that it was having trouble starting, that he noticed one of the wires going to the starter was frayed down to a thread, that he and a friend of his had hooked up a wire that ran from the starter up to the battery handle, so he could put the key in and then come up front and touch the wire to the battery and get it to start.
I told him about Matthew's Volvo Site and how its forums were full of friendly and helpful Volvo lovers from all across the country and even around the world. He asked where the guy was from. I wasn't sure. Colorado, maybe?
He told me about his son, who works for Delphi, and about how they work on projects for all kinds of cars including Volvo, and how someone at Volvo flew him out to the factory in... where is it? It's over on the Southwest side, near Denmark. "Gothenburg, maybe?" That sounded right. He kept fiddling under the hood with the wires that now held it in place, twisting them around and around. "Somebody from my church gave me this car, it just keeps going." I asked how many miles it had on it (this is a great conversational starting point for anybody with an old Volvo. We love to know how many miles are on it). He said, "That's a funny thing. The odometer stopped working! It said 129,000 when I got it but who knows how long it's been broke. It's probably a lot more than that now."
He mentioned that he was originally from West Lafayette but that he came up here to work construction at Notre Dame. I assumed he meant the Campus Crossroads Project, temporarily forgetting about the thousand other construction projects ND currently has going. I mentioned that I worked in the building next to the stadium and that I sometimes go up and look out the 2nd or 3rd floor windows to watch the construction progress. "Oh, I've got a niece, er, uh... a niece that works at Notre Dame. Her husband works there too." Cool. "Do you know any Colombians?" Uh.... I guess not? No, I don't think so. "Oh. They're both Colombian, she and her husband. They work in, uh.... I guess it's north of the stadium. Are you north of the stadium?" "No," I said, "I'm on the west side there, in the classroom building."
At some point the conversation sort of trailed off. I wished him good luck with the car and he said thanks, and then I did another weird thing that sometimes happens because I don't know how to end conversations. I stuck my hand out. "Peter."
I'm really bad at remembering to say things like "My name is Peter, by the way." I just get stage fright and remember that it's polite to introduce myself but forget to say the other words and just sort of yell my name at whoever I've just met while attempting to shake their hand.
"Peter? I'm Gary." He shook my hand. I wished him good luck with the 240 again as I turned to climb back into the minivan. (The Volvo, as it happens, is currently in a state of partial disassembly in my garage. That'll be a blog post here sooner or later.)
Anyway, what I am saying is that I had a perfectly pleasant conversation with a stranger and nothing bad happened. It wasn't even uncomfortable except for the part where I decided to say hello.
If the thought of conversing with a stranger terrifies you like it usually does me, you should still give it a try sometime. You probably won't even have to say much. People love talking about themselves and telling their stories. All you have to do is listen and ask a question or two. My friend Dan is a master at this. He's so good at it that I usually find myself halfway through the conversation thinking, "I am talking way too much. Uh, quick! Come up with something to ask!" and then I end up sort of stumbling back through whatever question he last asked me, trying to get him to answer it too.
I'm getting better at it, I guess.