My friend Jenna and I were sitting at a stoplight in Jackson when an older guy in a Subaru pulled up beside us and started asking questions about my rooftop tent through the open window. Next thing I knew, we were pulled over, and I was popping the thing up to show him. We learned his name was Jim and he’s lived in the area for 30 years…and soon enough, we were having coffee with him and talking about nature and geology and life and politics. After two hours, when I could practically hear Jenna’s stomach growling, I said to him “I wonder if you might like to have dinner with me tomorrow night” then added “Just to be clear, I’m not coming on to you.” He accepted enthusiastically, and we agreed to meet the next day at one of his favorite local spots.
What I’m realizing “out here” is that I make friends with strangers pretty easily (I’ve been told I smile more and make more eye contact than other people in the west, and folks credit this to my Midwest roots)…but I don’t do much of this in my “real” life (or, former life). I’m always busy (or rushing anyway) and distracted and probably generally avoid unscheduled human interaction because small talk annoys and exhausts me. But on this journey, I’ve slowed down and opened myself up to the possibility of connecting with random people. It started with the two little boys who wandered into my campsite my first week in California…and I learned something from them: good people make places even more beautiful than they were to begin with. I’ve been reminded of this time and again – by Betsy and Kent at Lake Tahoe, by Dawid in the Alabama Hills, by Jon in San Diego, Carlos in Sedona, Jim in Telluride, and now Jim in Jackson.
I can’t help but think there might be something to this, that part of what I’m supposed to be learning out here is about people and my interactions as an outgoing approachable introvert in a social world.