I flew non-stop from New York City to Los Angeles a couple of days ago. I had one seat next to me and it was occupied by a 24 year-old from New York, who had been living in California for 10 years. He had an arm sleeve tattoo. He was attractive, dressed in comfortable sweats. I liked him. This guy’s cool, I thought. He asked if he could have the aisle seat. I gave it to him.
Him: I lost $180.
Him: I lost $180 on my way through the airport.
A weird conversation starter is a good sign. I got the details, and I felt his pain. We continued to chat.
Him: I’m not sure if you’re into this… if I fall asleep, just kick me if you need to get out.
Me: (laughing) You’re not sure if I’m into falling asleep? Or kicking you?
Him: I took a Xanex.
Me: Oh. Gotcha.
He told me what part of So Cal he lived in. He told me about his girlfriend’s work drama. He showed me the gift he was bringing back to her. He said he was a musician.
Me: What kind of music?
Him: I like rock. Rap, too.
Me: Oh, what rappers you listen to?
There are at least 30 names he could have said here that woulda got me excited. Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Scott are not two of them.
(Note: I just googled “Who is Travis Scott?” Before I see any of his songs, I see Kylie Jenner has gone public with their relationship and I wonder who would want to buy shares in it.)
Me and dude cracked a few jokes, then settled into our respective seats/silences.
I could have asked more questions. I could have drawn more out of him. After all, he’s the next generation, and I do think he’s a good kid. He was obviously struggling in his own way. I was tired though. I had just driven a thousand miles in 30 hours and moved a lot of heavy equipment between storage units and navigated two unwieldy bags from Manhattan to JFK. I just wanted to sit in my own silence. (And watch Logan.)
For the rest of the trip, I did my own thing and he did his. I would occasionally think about exchanging information with him. (We ended up not.) I also thought about telling him about Howard & Todd. Ultimately, though what I felt was, that despite my initial impression, I didn’t like him. I didn’t dislike him. I just didn’t want to give him my energy. He didn’t seem worth it. And I may have seemed the same to him, because he didn’t push conversation.
A few weeks ago, on the way to the Dublin airport, I had a different experience. My cabbie, after seeing another cabbie try and skip the taxi queue line, launched into a mini-tirade against immigrants. They’re mean, he said. They get special treatment from the government, he said. It was initially a bummer. Why does this have to be my last experience of this beautiful island. Maybe in a desperate attempt to salvage this cap off to my journey, I asked my cabbie to explain how they were treated special. Struggling to avoid a tone of judgement/confrontation, I asked him if he’d personally had an exchange with a mean immigrant. I asked him if he meant all immigrants, or just refugees. He told me about how they cheat the system. How they get moved ahead of Irish people on the housing list. How they get lump sums of money from the government. How they behave to native Irish. How they make it about race.
As he explained, I stared out my window, and I noticed an adult male (white) holding a teenage male (also white) by the collar of his hoodie. The teenager was trying to pull away, but the adult had a good hold on him. A few seconds later, they were gone. I could no longer see them, and I have no idea how the scene unfolded. In my head, this kid had done something and was trying to get away with it, while the adult was trying to hold him accountable.
I said, “You know what’s funny. White people are mean to white people all the time. White people take advantage of white people all the time. Maybe true equality is just acknowledging that there are horrible people in every group, and not defining a group by them.”
He nodded, but he didn’t say anything. I suddenly felt that he was sick of his own negativity. Or maybe it was just me. Or maybe all my questions had just made him feel too vulnerable. He was silent for another moment (a millennia for this Irish cabbie) and said, “I just want everyone to be nicer to each other.”
As I got out of the cab, I felt bad about the philosophy he pushed on me, but good about the interaction. I didn’t use it as an opportunity to make myself feel better about my own views. I didn’t put my philosophy before respect for him. And, when the opportunity presented itself within the conversation, I told him straight up, white people can be mean, too… white people receive special treatment, too. I don’t think I changed him in anyway, but I hope I planted the seed of a voice that may speak to him in the future when thoughts of them confront him. It will be up to him whether he listens to it.
This morning (back in good ol’ Duarte, CA), as I was washing dishes, a voice spoke to me. It said — Write all day. Will I listen to it? Or will I give into the distractions, either because of fatigue or lack of focus?
What responsibility do we have to our fellow human? It seems that we’re comfortable treating the strangers with indifference or disdain, while screaming about the way our governments treats its citizens. If we can’t be engaged and compassionate with the people we encounter in the course of our daily lives, what can we expect of our world? Fatigue and lack of focus are no excuse. We have to be better. I have to be better. Every day is an opportunity to save the world.