Talking to Strangers, Boston – 3

We’ll call this interlude…

Vingnette 3 – The Informant

I’ve been living in the Midwest for about 3 years now, so I’m fairly used to people striking up random conversations with strangers in a shockingly congenial manner.  Naturally, when this happened in Chicago and on the train leaving Chicago, I was not in the least surprised.  I’ve had conversations with strangers on the bike path, in countless elevators, in the security line at the airport, even in a bathroom. Talk, talk, talk, friendly, friendly, friendly. Truth be told, I like it.  It’s lovely.  I find it charming.  And startling as it was at first, I’m used to it.  But part of getting used to it was reassuring myself that this sort of thing didn’t happen back home in the good old cold shoulder East Coast.  I thought I could rely on my birth region to back me up when it came to expressing my inner introvert in public.  I mean, I mastered the fine art of eye contact avoidance and faux cell phone absorption on the streets of Boston!

But no. Some things never last. So much to my surprise, I spent a very chatty few days in Boston once my train pulled in.  But the first and perhaps most memorable was the day I walked into the Quincy T station, ready to hop on the red line and head through downtown to Harvard.  I was meeting a friend and running a tad late, so I wasn’t in the market for distractions or hold ups – but it turns out demand doesn’t drive supply when it comes to random conversations with strangers. Thanks a lot, economics.

So there she was.  Out of the blue.  And in uniform!  A bustling, middle age, broad shouldered MBTA official, swooping down on me.  For a second I thought she’d zeroed in on the vestiges of midwest friendly that still miraculously clung to my person after a day and a half of cramped travel sans showers.  Surely she would take the disheveled look and amiable stance as the sure signs of criminal activity – she was a savvy mass transit official, not to be trifled with, not to be fooled!  She would walk up to me and demand to search my bag, with a gruff gesture and a dour frown. I almost smiled at the prospect – home again!

But NO. Foiled again, Collins!

“That’s a very nice skirt!” she exclaimed, locking eyes with me before I knew what was happening.

“Uhm – ” the old-school CT girl in me fought to stand strong, I could hear her hissing in my ear, Just give a nervous flicker of a smile, avert your eyes and make a B line for the ticket machine. But the Wisconsonite that has always lived somewhere in my soul just pushed right on past. “Awe, thanks! I like it too – it’s got elephants!” (Yes, at this point I pointed to the elephants) “Actually, it’s not really mine, it’s a hand-me down from a friend.”

Her eyes grew wide.

Wrong response?

“OH,” she said.

She looked me up and down.

What on God’s green earth – ? Did people who pointed to elephants on their skirts constitute a whole other level of friendly that even this bombastic swooping skirt-admirer couldn’t stomach?  Friendly, yes – quirky, get the hell outta my T station? Is that how it works?  What did I do wrong!?

“WELL. I’m going to let you in on a little secret.”

The CT Julie was back. Run, she whispered.

“But I’m only telling you this because you’re smaller than me.”

RUN, you fool!

“There is a PHENOMENAL thrift shop over in Wollaston.”

At which point the Wisconsin Julie bounded back to center stage, immediately threw Mackelmore on my mental turntable, and, with a cheery grin on her face, shoved CT Julie back into her Corner of Petulance.

Once I’d stopped listening to the counter-culture rap piping away in my skull, I tuned back in to the soliloquy pouring forth from the impromptu dramaturge who stood before me, gesticulating in her rapture over this diamond in the Wollaston rough. Apparently this thrift shop was QUITE the find – and she was only telling people about it who weren’t her size, so that she wasn’t alerting the competition.  Oh, the things she’s discovered there!  I could probably list them here for you, but this blog only has so much room.  Leather coats, something pink with buttons?, the blouses! the almost-designer-like-something-or-other-can-you-believe???

She went on.

And I couldn’t stop the words of enthusiastic encouragement from dancing their way through my defeated New England lips.

It was like a previously unstaged brainstorming session in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, before the motley crew of actors gathers their props and costumes for the wedding charade.

But Quince, we’ll be in need of finery!

Why, Bottom, I know JUST the place – to Wollaston!

Do tell me more, you thrifty knave!

I really did half expect one of us to turn into a donkey by the end of the conversation.

“Do you like shopping at thrift shops?”

“Oh sure, I love seeing what’s in there! I’m from Madison, Wisconsin and we have a couple really good ones in the center of town.”

Stop talking! Stop, you crazy woman! Then maybe SHE’LL stop and we can catch our TRAIN! Remember our TRAIN that’s taking you to see your FRIEND who is not this wacky woman with little better to do in her day than regale you with some yarn about a thirft shop?


“Thanks for telling me, I really appreciate it! I’ll have to check it out.”

No,  you won’t! You will NEVER be in Wollaston! Probably in your life!

Won’t I?

You won’t!

Don’t you mean, You Hella Won’t!?

“Oh, sure, sure, I’m telling anyone who isn’t my size!”

“Well no worries, your secret is safe with me!” I gave her a conspiratorial grin. It’s possible I even winked.

At which point an appropriately mousy and timid looking tax payer of the state of Massachusetts mercifully interrupted us, and diverted the attention of my loquacious civil servant.

Still smiling to myself, highly entertained by the whole encounter, I finally purchased my ticket and headed off to wait for the T.

That was ridiculous. 

Correct. But I’d say it was also fucking awesome


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