Adventure in Normal Life

A Small Town, Boston Is

Since I’m already up this morning, I might as well watch the sunrise.

A few of my waking thoughts this morning as I blinked awake at about 5 were:

1) why am I up this early?

2) Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. (It’s not working….) Sheep. Sheep. Sheep. (That’s not working either….) Just kidding.

3) I’m not going to go back to sleep. The point bordering sleepiness and wakefulness was passed 30 minutes ago.

4) What did I do yesterday? What do I have to do today? Who ….  I can now count on one hand the times I’ve recognized people walking down the street or standing at a street corner that I’ve either seen once before or met once.

It’s the first time that it has really dawned on me that Boston is a small city. Yes, I’ve always had that sentiment that I can walk basically anywhere I need to go, if I really need to go there, or if I’m too impatient to wait for a train. But surely, there are so many people here that I wouldn’t see a random person twice? Here are a few examples:

  • I rode the T at some point in February and stood next to an absurdly well-dressed couple (next to people who were in their jeans, scruffy sneakers and oversized jackets, they were in smart black heels, be-jeweled, and made-up and black suited and polished, respectively) who I had noticed for the stark contrast in general attire at 4 in the afternoon, and we both got off at the same stop, Prudential Tower downtown, whereupon I had to walk along with them and then discover their destination to be the Cheesecake Factory. Apparently they were meeting up with others who were, likely, likewise overdressed for the hour – unless they were planning to stay well into cocktail hour. The gentleman was also wearing a VERY large decorative ring. And no, it was not a wedding ring. The following day, I was riding in my friend’s car in Brookline early in the morning, turned my head to the left as we slowed to a stop at the traffic light, and saw outdoors the very same couple standing at the cross walk, each on their mobile device. He was still wearing the giant bling.
  • I was out on a relaxed shopping excursion with my roommate a few weeks after my trip to New York (I ended up having to go back to where I nannied, because…I forgot my sweater somewhere in their apartment, and it was right by the Cambridgeside Galleria), and saw a professor and researcher at Columbia’s Institute of Human Nutrition (that would be, New York), with her teen daughter, at Express. I haven’t been inside that store anywhere in America since high school, but for some reason decided to go in there to poke around, and saw her! I stood dumbfounded as she walked past me in a harried way, holding two simple tank tops (which, I’d looked at earlier, and were an outlandish $23.00 each). I was so surprised initially because I recognized her face from somewhere I’d been very recently, and once I realized it, I could not explain why a New Yorker was somehow in my part of town, let alone, the professor doing research I was interested in AND with whom I had had about a 40 minute conversation with at the wine & cheese about how women who want to be moms while being a professional in the scientific doctoral field face terrible attitudes and prejudices from male colleagues and superiors… Maybe not only Boston is small…
  • Yesterday, I was walking out of my apartment to go catch the train and get to class when I turned and saw a good 20 feet away, walking on a street nearby in the opposite direction to which I was headed, a student/research assistant at Harvard Medical School that I’d met in New York on my recent visit, in a small group of potential Ph.D. applicants (she was applying for a bioinformatics degree) who wished to visit the MoMA who I’d discovered on our excursion, lived somewhere near Central Square. I’d wondered if I’d ever see her around, randomly, and yes, yesterday afternoon was the day. But no, I did not call out, “Hey, H!” Would she even remember my name? I just kept walking along on my usual route to class.
  • Once when I was meeting my friend S a few weeks ago, we were deep in conversation as we walked through Harvard Square looking for a place that used to be there where we could lunch. As we neared a crosswalk at Mass Ave, I suddenly made eye contact (by accident) with a lady who passed, and we both startled – yes, we did know one another, once upon a time, but I was in the middle of laughing and telling a story and it would take too much effort (sadly!) to stop and re-acquaint with J. We’d spent a summer semester together in Grenoble, around each other constantly, and were also co-editors of a journal of translated literary works during college. Our social circles also somewhat collided. That day was also remarkable because I waited for S in the Harvard COOP, and as I walked in, everyone in the store was lined up in an arc of sorts, looking up on the balcony where a theatre troup of some sort was putting on a performance right there among the aisles of books and a small chamber group of various instruments was tooting and drumming away.
  • After one of my days of nannying, I was walking towards the Kendall St. stop at MIT and I saw J again, at a different stop. This time, I don’t think she saw me or recognized me. The next time I see her, I’m going to talk to her.
  • I was on a train coming back from a church gathering on Sunday morning two weeks ago in Boston (an unusual event for me to be traveling from there, in itself), which I had occasionally visited, but more often lately, and my professor from college boards the train midway in my journey, on my very train car and stands a few feet from me. After a minute or two, he sees me, and we soon began to converse and had a wonderful time catching up until our destination. Quelle chance!

Once my list grew from 1 to 6 such occurrences, I thought this phenomena might warrant note! I can’t help but wonder if there is some meaning to seeing people unexpectedly – should I have taken each opportunity to break into new and different bounds of social interaction? Yes, I have been talking to more people who I don’t know yet with more ease than I’ve ever had in my life previously, after all. How hard could it be to talk to people I used to know or had met at one point? I’d like to get to the point (a different level) where I can feel comfortable enough to strike up a conversation with, say, someone I am sitting near in a cafe, or someone also waiting for a train and make it normal and nice. BRING BACK the face-to-face CONVERSATIONS! “Put down the texting device, put down the ipod, unplug those headphones, have a look around!”

[that’s what I think sometimes, but of course, don’t ever have the nerve to say…partly because I shamefully am a part of that don’t-talk-to-me-I-look-busy demographic, which, includes just about everybody who travels on public transportation these days]

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