The Kindness of Strangers

“Woke up this morning with a terrific urge to lie in bed all day and read.” Raymond Carver

After two very full days of helping to facilitate a faculty retreat and then two full days of a work meeting; I’m completely and entirely knackered. If you’re familiar with the federated wiki, then I can say my brain feels like the YHOD. Or as the wonderfully hilarious Lisa Chamberlin might say, “I’m so tired I’m bound to type something that would make me a total YHOD.”

I reread my last post and realized that I attributed Jay Mascis to a cover when I really meant Buffalo Tom. Talk about YHOD-ery. Just because I’m caring little about attribution lately doesn’t mean I can accept inaccuracy (Sorry about that, Jay).

So here’s some Yo Le Tango for your day and my day of being a bit like Barnaby. I have to commute to work, but you know, “I’d prefer not to.” I really need a day off. Boo hoo, says my unemployed friends. Okay. Deal, Indrunas.

For the rest of my readers, I can describe this feeling as being so joyfully exhausted that I can’t think. I have the morning off to make up for the non-stop seven day workaday last week, and I’m cool with that. I like to read and write in the morning most, but I have to agree with Mr. Carver. What he said in my epigraph. But alas, I’ve got meetings this afternoon, so my two hours of morning slumber will have to suffice.

I learned so much over the past four days, but I don’t want to write about that now. I need time to think. So many voices in my head. So many amazing things spoken in my presence. So much big picture. So many details. So much coolness. So many ideas. So many ideas. So many. So.

Here are two short shorts—you know in honor of Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts. Though how could I ever compete with Mr. Carver’s tales? And Mr. Altman’s choice of Lily Tomlin and Tom Waits was just chemistry on screen, right? Nonetheless, I can claim some inspiration from Carver if only by name only. Short. Cuts.

After I got bumped from my flight on Sunday, they set me up with a room at the Holiday Inn, so I went to the bar to write all by my lonesome; it was wonderful. Only after hour and half later, Drunk Daft Willy came over to my table. Here’s the conversation:

Him: Hey, noticed you were writing. My son’s a writer.

Me: Oh. (Here we go, Captain Observant. I start packing up my stuff).

Him: I noticed you are wearing a ring. Married?

Me: No, I just wear this ring to fend off assholes in bars when I’m travelling.

Him: What a good strategy! That’s makes you a pretty smart gal, right? Must be because you read a lot. Are you one of those gals that’s read 50 Shades…?

Me (Seriously?! Chugging the rest of my beer, not making eye contact):

Him: So I hope you aren’t calling it a night all alone…wait, you’re leaving. Um, wait, I didn’t get your name.

Me: ‘nite. (Daft Willy).

Him: Well, you don’t have to rude about it, he yells a bit loudly as I exit the bar.

Yes, I do, Daft Willy! You see, if I want to talk to you, strangers of the world, I will let you know. In fact, I was writing about the two conversations I had with my taxi drivers, and I did not want to be interrupted.

Fun fact: I always ask taxi drivers for their most outrageous stories of picking up passageners—and these Portland taxi drivers helped me see a bit of the Keep Portland Weird spirit. Pure gold! I wanted to summarize what we talked about, and I wanted to summarize some ways we—that is higher education—can help taxi drivers go to school. Both of my drivers had dropped out of community colleges. I hate those stories.

At the time, I was so seriously annoyed with Daft Willy, but now I think this conversation is kind of hilarious. I just wrote about the good ol’ waitress days, and I was surprised at how quickly my forked tongue spat out the bitter sarcasm. In this era of my life, I’ve tried to be nicer when I don’t like somebody, but Daft Willy just deserved it. And really, that ridiculous tome of actualized sexual repression must be such a pick up line right now for the Daft Willies of the world.

It’s all over the place that 50 Shades of Grey Matter. Jeez. I hardly want to write about that phenomenon, but here’s something really pretty entertaining. Google Target, the title of that book, and electronic toothbrushes. My stomach muscles hurt from my friend imitating the conversation of the Target employees who were trying to figure out where to shelve one of the movie-inspired products. I would type it here, but it’s better shared in person. And I want to keep my blog somewhat respectable. You know, a family affair type blog (insert laugh track here).

And speaking of things better shared in person, I met the most wonderful stranger in Portland, OR! My two friends in that city were both busy with the jobby jobs, so they couldn’t hang out with me. Epic sadness. So I set out solo to roam the city on foot and “take a jaunt with my camera” (as my photo teacher once called it). You see, I first went to Portland circa 1994, and it depressed the hell out of me. The waterfront was dirt, the buildings were boarded up, and it smacked of Rust Belt desperation–like towns that I had escaped. And there were junkies everywhere. That still exists, but it seems a bit more contained. They at least have public art to enjoy while they slowly kill themselves and lose their teeth to crystal meth. Portland and Seattle have a serious problem with drug addict homelessness. As the wealth distribution grows even wider, the homeless live under the highways, in doorways, on the sidewalks, and along the water of our beautiful cities on the rise.

And oh my word, the new buildings! Portland feels so different. So up and coming. So shiny. So very interesting. So silly—a $7 grilled cheese sandwich out of a trailer—why didn’t I think of that?

Circa 2004, the then boyfriend now husband and I went on a road trip of college towns where we hoped to someday get a job (enter laugh track here), and we weren’t especially excited about Portland. It seemed like a lesser-Seattle and a very weak San Francisco. It still depressed me then. But that was before The Dream died, and I now have different eyes. It feels like a very big Bellingham, and I think I could live there or near there. Not sure. Not really thinking about it. Not thinking about that at all. Really.

So while I was down by the water, I heard this woman’s voice.

“Are you from around here? Do you know how to get to the other side?”

She didn’t look like a meth vampire. Like she’d stab me for $5 bucks.

I said, “No, I’m not but I think you have to walk the bridge, so maybe it’s best to stay on this side. You could walk into the downtown area.”

Her: Well, I’m just wandering around. I should be at a conference, but I feel like being outside.

Me: What conference?

Her: [Something science-y something science something] Soil and Erosion. Sounds exciting huh? Where are you from?

Me: I live in Bellingham, WA, but I work in Everett. I’ve been in a hotel for two days in front of my laptop so I need to walk too. Totally get it.

Her: Then you must know about the Oso mudslide. We’ve been talking about it quite a bit.

Me: Yes, we had a student die in the slide. It’s pretty terrible. Have you talked about the lack of regulation with timber companies? I have a hard time believing it was a natural disaster. The disaster is the unregulated timber industry.

Her: I know what you mean. I live in Montana.

Me: I lived in Montana for a few years. Where do you live?

And so it went. We had a lovely chat, and we kept walking together. She was really interesting, and she understood my job—always a plus if I don’t have to explain the jobby job to strangers, ya know. She asked me if I had any Portland recommendations, and I asked her if she had been to Powell’s. She said, “No. Is that a restaurant?”

So I insisted that we walk there together. You can’t go to Portland and not check out the city of books! I was thinking of going back one more time, and how entirely cool to introduce somebody to that bookstore. How entirely cool to have something in common with a stranger who walked with me for a mile or so.

I told her a bit of what I was up to in Portland, and she was very interested. You see, she has to little ones she hopes to send to college someday. So I told her the promise that my co-chair and I made to one another when we got started with our OER project. We will have OER institutionalized and figured out by the time your kids are in college. We hope to. We want to. We have to.

We parted ways in the lobby of Powell’s and my mind went back to the end of the meeting. How I shared that it was so refreshing to be around people that I don’t have to convince that OER is not just “my good idea” because it is THE Good Idea. I struggle with feeling like I live on the spectrum of being either Chicken Little or the person Cheering The Good Idea. It’s exhausting. I just want to be the person doing the work to make it happen.

It was just nice to be among strangers who all have this mission in mind. It’s now Our Good Idea.

At the end of the meeting, one of the teachers talked about how he was one of the underprivileged students that we are trying to rescue with this project. He talked about how he struggled as a student financially. And he said, “I wish I had known that teachers were working this hard when I was a student. I would have worked harder.”

And we are working hard, and I just met 50 people who are up for the fight. Up for the challenge (wink). Up for the task. Maybe we’ll have fewer people living under highways someday. Maybe a taxi driver can find a way to go to school. Maybe the daughter of a welder can become an eLearning Director someday with less debt.

I have always depended on the kindness of strangers. Me too, Tennessee. Me too.

About Alyson Indrunas

Always learning about instructional design, educational technology, professional development, adult education, and writing.
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6 Responses to The Kindness of Strangers

  1. francesbell says:

    Thanks for sharing your story – full of links through time across places. I love accidental encounters. Regarding FSoG – I am trying to ignore all that but this has cheered me up Fifty Shades of Gran


  2. awritersalchemy says:

    Love Portland and have for years, so i totally get your assessment of it. As a first-generation college student, this post rings all my bells!


  3. I know Bethany, so thanks for saying “me too.” You were mentioned and missed at the retreat–Kevin and I had a long chat about writing and writers. And of course, we both mentioned how awesome you are:)


  4. Lisa Chamberlin says:

    Just so you know…you wrote, ” What he said in my epigraph.”…I read, “What he said in my EPITAPH.” Talk about a spittake…


  5. HA! That was my go-to joke with students about the definition of epigraph and epitaph! Funny. One sets the mood or tone of a work and one goes on your gravestone. Which is which? Discuss.

    #PoorStudents #NotFunnyTeacher #TorturedByPuns #SentencesByHashtags


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