My daughter lives in Portland, Oregon so I’ve traveled there quite often, most recently a few weeks ago. Every time I’m there I marvel at their public transportation system. Not just because it’s so vast, accessible and easy, but because everyone uses it.
Because I live and work in the suburbs, I tend to see people who are very similar to me. Even when I go into Denver I drive, so I’m still not surrounded by the extremes of humanity.
But I love going to Portland so I can ride public transportation. All the stereotypes I have of people are tossed aside.
Three examples from my recent trip …
• Four rowdy teens rode a long way at the front of our car on the Max train. They weren’t being aggressive or anything, but were loud, clearly out for a good time that night. One of the more punk-looking ones was talking on his phone at one point, a conversation full of laughter and expletives. At the end of it he said, “I love you, buddy.” As they passed my seat when their stop approached, all four of them, single-file, shot me dazzling, happy smiles and the last one said, with great enthusiasm, “Have a great night!” It makes me smile just to think about it.
• A scary über-tattooed-and-pierced guy sat on the train in seats facing us. Earbuds stuck in tight, he had tuned out to his iPod, which was just fine with me. The less eye contact the better, I thought. As the train filled a bit more, the least hip couple in the universe sat next to him. (I know what you’re thinking, but no, this couple made us look like Lady Gaga and Sean Connery.) Next thing I know, they’re chatting like old friends! Scary UTAP guy has pulled out his earbuds and is willingly giving directions and sharing dining and tourist advice with them.
• On the bus one day we had to wait for an elderly man to get his walker up the ramp. I was annoyed (and a bit ashamed to say it didn’t even occur to me to help him) until a hipster in skinny black jeans and a fedora hopped down to lend him a hand and a smile.
As I watch people on the Max and listen to their conversations, I’m constantly surprised and delighted by my fellow man. It’s also true that sometimes I’m surprised by their drastic and conspicuous body odor, but luckily that doesn’t happen much.
Whenever my kneejerk reactions to people are wrong, I’m reminded about the advice I’ve heard a gazillion times when creating characters in my writing. Nobody is all bad or all good and stereotypes are boring.
Maybe those unhipsters were really double agents on a mission. Or circus lion tamers! Or the inventors of root beer bottle cap candy!
Or what else?