Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Marketplace of the Bus

This man's hat weighed 20 pounds!

Part of my repatriation adjustment (thanks, Karen, for letting me know I am not alone in feeling a bit strange in my own country!) back to the United States has been getting used to all of the friendly, nosy, helpful Americans -- I'm usually the only one.
In England, I could ride the bus, Tube, or train all day without a single conversation unless I felt inclined to talk to a stranger about the weather (the only appropriate stranger-talk there).  Here, I am constantly bombarded by friendly, uninhibited stranger-talk.

At first, I thought it was just Philadelphia, but I noticed it in Washington, DC, too: expectant mothers who had never met having extensive conversations, as did unacquainted people in leg-casts.

It is an adjustment.  I commute the three miles to school either by walking or taking the bus.  I often relish the time to myself to study or think, but two nights ago, I could not help but join in on the group conversation (that's several uninhibited strangers interacting all at once!) about this man's 30-pound vest and 20-pound hat.  That's not pounds sterling - he had sold similar items for prices ranging from $5,000-$25,000 (the hat on his head could be purchased on the spot for $6,000-$10,000).  Unique coins and beautiful stones from all around the world, even a few chicken bones, adorned his couture pieces.  My favorite part was the unadorned cane, however, and that he trusted this stranger enough to hold his hat as he pointed out its treasures.

But the adventurous ride did not end there.  The bus driver was stopped by a man wanting to go a block for a dollar.  After he got off, the black bus driver began talking to basically just me, seated a few rows back, out of his rear-view mirror.  He commented that as the economy gets worse (and it wasn't really all that bad yet - just a bunch of political hype), more and more decent people would begin to do strange things.  He then began a longish soliloquy about how if he were president, he'd fix the country by getting everyone back to work to get them straightened out and produce more taxes.  He talked of his disappointment in Obama not fulfilling hopes and promises, comparing him to a plumber who is given a very long time to fix your sink: you don't invite him back again.

The two other white strangers on the bus began nodding heads and saying if it didn't revert to communism, it'd be great.  As we got off, one stranger confided that she didn't know how I started that, but that was awesome!

The experience was a bit surreal.  I wonder if John Stuart Mill or Adam Smith ever anticipated their marketplaces--either of ideas or free trade--would happen on a bus.  This repatriating American was just pleased to be a part of it.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I have ever just had an actual conversation with someone on the commute. Sometimes on the plane but not much. To me everyone is plugged in.
    But that's great that you get that in Philadelphia.
    That guys hat is pretty amazing.