With Love and Gratitude

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Trapped by the Stranger on the Train Phenomenon

When non-stop talking travelers rattle us, we may need to hear their loneliness.
Chris Guillebeau
This post is a response to Do You Ever Get Lonely When You Travel? by Chris Guillebeau

Trying to juggle two events, I found myself sitting on a long distance bus twice in three days unavoidably learning about loneliness during a passenger's five-hour monologue. I vowed never to travel without earplugs, earphones, or a good book in case the WiFi was ever out again. Also I was feeling sorry for myself that I didn't have the luxury of a car and driver for my trips to visit children and their bambinos. There is no direct plane or train service from Boston to Burlington.

Boarding the bus early I thought that I had an ideal seat at the picture window up front. After realizing that the WiFi was down, I told myself that I would have some serious meditation time while looking at the picture postcard scenery. Within minutes, any thoughts of peace were shattered. A woman two seats away across the aisle began her monologue with the passenger next to her. Her voice carried and trapped all of us. Hours later, I realized that we were in a never-never land that Melinda Blau called The Paradox of Fleeting Relationships in Small Places | Psychology Today

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The loneliness factor surfaced

As she talked, the students plugged in their earphone, while the rest of us up front learned about boarding dogs, the psychology of dogs owners, pickling cabbage, canning food, conflict in South America, whaling, sheep herding, juice diets, and how to start a commune. With no other seat available, I sat back and tried to sleep

The first hour was amusing. The second hour became tiresome. By the third hour her not-so-silent voice escalated as the man next to her began closing his eyes behind his very large sun glasses.

A reminder of Alzheimer patients

Hearing her non-stop talk painfully reminded me of my father when Alzheimer's set in. He talked non-stop to anyone who would listen. I imagined this woman traveling around the world lassoing any person who might say "hello."

By the fourth, I tried making notes on my iPad but my head was spinning. I still need to go from the bus to a train to a fundraiser that I was chairing. I was tired.

Traveling as a child

I remember as a child when we traveled, I re-invented myself with each person who sat next to me on a train or plane. I loved being able to say that we were meeting our father, Frank Sinatra’s sound consultant. But from there I moved onto fanciful tales. In one story I told of a trip to the islands where I was romanced by young men even though I had just become a teen. 

Fear of dying alone

Close to the fifth hour on the bus, the woman began winding down. Her voice lowered a bit and she slowed her pace. She talked about an illness, non-traditional treatments, doctors who couldn't be trusted, and the pharmaceutical companies that were trying to kill her. Then it occurred to me. She needed someone to hear her life story.

I recalled an old Remington Steele episode that I saw on Hulu.com (I still do not own a TV). In this particular episode, one of the men had this to say when he was asked to explain his life of white collar crime:

“I just wanted to earn enough money to go down to Florida and live with my sister, because I’m afraid to die alone.”

It seemed that our monologist was facing mortality. Perhaps in telling her story, even anonymously, her bits and pieces of information as well as stories of her travels would inspire another's adverture. And if so, she would obviously be pleased.

I was reminded of my recent experience after reading, Chris Guillebeau  in The Art of Non-Conformity. Since I spend so much time in Vermont, I try to divide my time between writing a story and drinking in the views.

Copyright 2014 Rita Watson 

Rita Watson is an Associate Fellow at Yale's Ezra Stiles College and a columnist for The Providence Journal.

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