“Umm Hi, does the train to North Hollywood come on this platform?”, I asked after scanning the woman for two minutes and felt that she might be worth beginning a friendship with.
“Yes, the next train goes there.”, she said without knowing that I had been taking that train every day for a month now. But then I did not find any hook in her to hook on to. There was nothing special in what she was wearing that I could begin talking about. She wasn’t reading any book I could begin conversation about. So I had to begin with the lamest one. I use different ways to open the channel. In some languages these are called ‘pick up lines’. But romantic inclinations are not the only ones I have when I do this. When I can’t think of any, I use the simplest one – “Hi, My name is Rajeev.” Many people in many bars in many cities might have met me saying that. Some people are willing to talk further, some aren’t.
We started talking. I liked the fact that she was doing web analytics and her undergrad major was Mathematics. She needed to get down on the next station.
“How do I get in touch with you again? You got some email id or something”, I asked frantically as the train screeched into the station. Always better to ask email id than mobile number. You enter way too much into the life of someone by accessing mobile number, especially in the big modern cities, where people are highly conscious about their personal lives. Email id is far less innocuous and you are seen much less aggressive. But now, there was not much time left even for the exchange of email id.
“I am sorry, I need to change my train at this station. Can you step out quickly and note my email?”
I was torn. If I exit this train, the next train does not come for another 10 minutes. If I don’t, I may never see her again. It was Sophie’s choice! Trains come and go. But good friends in a new city are hard to find.
I noted her email id and saw the woman and the train moving in opposite directions leaving me alone on the station. I did not wait to reach my work to email her. As soon as I got out of the metro station, I started receiving signal reception on phone and I wrote a quick email to her. We met the same evening after the work. I really enjoyed her company. She wasn’t bimbo, she was a thinker.
A WEEK EARLIER, SAME STATION, ALMOST SAME TIME
A young man wearing skinny jeans (like most guys in LA), was holding sneakers in the hands, while he waited for the train. I got my hook –curiosity about why he was not wearing those sneakers.
“Are you going to work with those sneakers in your hands?”
“How can I go to work like this, even my hair is not done! I am going to gym.”
“But why don’t you wear those sneakers instead of keeping them in your hands? ”
“Oh I am just returning from work, I had a night shift. So I will go to gym and change into running clothes”
We broke into conversation. This person also needed to change trains at next station, so we quickly exchanged emails. I met him two days later. He was little aloof but had interesting world view.
OTT – Defined
I met many men and women in this city – at train stations, inside the metro’s, in coffee houses at restaurants. Invariably, I would be the one to make first attempt to go up to them and say Hello. I would exchange contact information because first interaction would be quite impressive and I would be curious to know more about them. Afterwards, I would be the first one to touch base via email or text. When we would meet for first proper meeting, I would really enjoy their company and they would too, no wonder they would offer their email or phone number in the first place and would actually meet for an hour or more afterwards. But I hardly get to see them again. In spite of the fact that we have great time exchanging thoughts, the meeting became ONE TIME TRANSACTION. They all told that they looked forward to see me again. I am very sure they meant that. They were all well-meaning people. But after first coffee or dinner or walk, they would not be the ones to text or email or call another time to say, “Hey you wanna hang out again?”. Again, I would be the one to first do that and would get warm declining replies of types –
“Just got home from work. Lounging for a bit, then hangin with my cousin. Wish you had texted me earlier! I totally would have come by after work.”
“Yeah on phone with my brother”
“Walking home, looking to purchase drinking water.”
“Just leaving work. I’m having people over for drinks this evening then going to a gallery where I have some art showing, if you want to join.”
“Yo Rajeev, I’m going to the Cumbia thing at music center plaza in a little bit. Come check it out. 🙂 might go to a party later. Might just chill. What are you up to? “
“Hey. I’m gonna meet with my cousin and nephews. They came from Mexico”
“Here working and you?”
“Sorry my friend I won’t be home this evening. Monday?”
“Cleaning my house, what about you?”
All of the above are the replies of friends I reached out on the past Friday evening – a social experiment I often do on Friday evenings. I spent an hour texting all people I could think of in downtown LA. I understand that all of the above were real genuine reasons for us not being able to meet that evening. Moreover, with busy and conflicting schedules, prior appointments in Outlook Calendars are perhaps more practical.
As I reflect on the past month I spent in LA or the past year I spent in USA, I am filled with questions. Why in the past one year, very rarely or probably never someone came up to me and said HI? Could it be my appearances or my Indian color? But then, after the first effort from my side, things would go very smoothly. So it should be safe to assume that they liked me. Still I feel exhausted of chasing people in 360 degrees. I don’t even know what it feels like to be chased. As I dig deep, I realize that I am new – to the city and to the country. And I am the one who is alone. These wonderful people already had families, friends, career and jobs before they crossed my path. So in the universe of each of them, I am nothing but an asteroid. But in my solar system, if I am the sun, these people are important planets of mine. It is my issue that I they occupy a big share of my mind and I don’t in their minds.
Another explanation, at least for Los Angeles, is that this city is full of struggling artists. So most people who I meet are working many jobs to pay their bills and fees for their head shots or acting classes or other recipes for the success with their art. But then I am doing two internships. Back in Indiana, I go through a very demanding academic program so I am not any less busy. Yet, when it comes to different obligations competing for my priority, meeting people seems to cut the line and show up at the front of the queue. Should that mean I am less focused on career? I don’t know. May be. In that case these other one time friends might be considered much more ambitious and career driven?
How people make new friends or get new dates and continue to hold on to them is still a mystery to me. I live on a very hip Street of Downtown LA. The Spring street. Every time I look out of the window of my 8th floor apartment, I see people – in pairs and in groups walking on streets, sharing jokes, holding hands, kicking each other. When I walk around in the neighborhood, I see people smoking, drinking and eating on the patios of bars and restaurants. These people-watch experiences raise the same questions in my mind – how these people might have met and how they hang out together time and again. But who knows, they are also having their OTTs – One Time Transactions.
So many onlookers might have felt the same when I had my OTT with people.
Often people say that their favorite past time is ‘hanging out with friends’. Or people ask, ‘who do you hang out with?’. I think the new mantra is, “Oh with myself!” . Hanging out with oneself lowers expectations. One becomes fan of his own company. If today I had not decided to enjoy my own company, I possibly could not have written out this post. As I sign off, I accept the new reality that people are super mobile and busy. In the modern times, texting is much more preferred that vocal communication between humans. As a first step to this acceptance after waiting for another hour of that social experiment and finding no positive reply, I decide to run – my favorite hanging out activity. When I run, I feel the entire city is with me.
PS: It was a co-incidence that someone shared this article around the same time when I was writing this piece – http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/fashion/the-challenge-of-making-friends-as-an-adult.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2