I’ve been waiting a long time for a story that would let me express a specific, complex idea. I’ve tried writing it out more times than I can count. But it never quite worked. I want to explain briefly what I mean. I try to blog only with the intention of eliciting a specific emotional reaction or deductive conclusion. These specific points are typically only a single inference. Sometimes more than one. But never more than two. I’ve always had terrible luck communicating nested inferences. It’s difficult to lead someone to a set of conclusions when each successive conclusion is predicated on another which without room for subjective interpretation. This paragraph is a good example of a badly communicated idea. I’d like to call that ironic but I’m sure I’ve already lost whatever few people somehow ended up here reading this. So hopefully with some sensible introduction, here’s the story.
I work at one of the world’s busiest cafes in the middle of a dense urban center. Today at work I saw a boy who looked really familiar. He was dressed very nicely, all in trendy urban styles. Maybe about 20 years old, very well groomed, with slicked back hair, perfectly styled. This is a popular look in Portland these days. The look he gave me said he knew me, but I couldn’t place him in my memory. I thought some more about it and continued my tasks. I looked up again a few minutes later and he waved at me and smiled. He was sitting in a corner, half-way reclining against the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up the walls of the cafe. Behind him were blocks and blocks of street lights and sleepy skyscrapers, half-illuminated with twilight turning to dusk on the horizon. Suddenly I remembered; he was here a few weeks ago asking if I knew of any backpacker hostels. He and his brother were traveling and needed a place to stay. His appearance was very different. His hair had been long, his dress less urban.
I remember thinking I wish I had my new apartment set up. I would gladly have offered a couch after what conversation we had at first meeting. We had that cosmic traveler’s connection. That feeling which when experienced makes you wish it’s how all people felt about each other. Just a pure feeling of community and common altruistic purpose between people looking to experience life just for the joy of doing so. No other motives, no social contract.
At the exact moment when I realized who he was, I was asked to perform a task which meant I would have to walk out to the lobby and stand next to him for several minutes. If I hadn’t experienced so much odd, hilarious serendipity in my life, I would have laughed.
I said, “Hi,” and asked how they were doing and if they had found a hostel. He said “Yes,” that they had found a place to stay. He was excited to be starting a ballet program soon. He has always worked as a waiter but ballet has been his life’s passion.
I asked where they had come from. “Nashville,” he said. They backpacked over 2,300 miles. And did it just for the adventure, not sure what they would be doing next. I shared that I had just come half-a-thousand miles myself, from Sacramento, and that it’s been years since I’ve lived anywhere for over six months, and that I’m also unsure what I’ll be doing next. I praised his courage at taking the initiative and seeking out adventure. We talked about how there is so much out there; so much to do; and how we shared an excitement for the things to come in our lives.
He asked how I liked working in cafes. “I love it,” I said, “…kind of goes with the lifestyle, getting to meet so many people so diverse in background and experience.”
He laughed, “I guess you’re right.” And took another sip of his drink.
“Well,” I said, “…if I don’t see you again, good travels!” He smiled and said, “You too!”
I carried my finished work back across the cafe. A few minutes later he left with a wave goodbye. Maybe to catch a train, find a bookstore, or maybe to find a new adventure.