(This true story first appeared at the wonderful TriMetDiaries.com.)
I wear glasses . . . except I don’t actually wear my glasses. They fine tune my vision, but things within 10 feet are mostly clear without them, so I don’t wear them. What this means on the bus is that if I’m scanning to see if anyone I know is aboard, I have to focus for a second or two on each face, and that means I make a lot of eye contact. Being a friendly sort, this is fine with me, and usually, people I don’t know just glance back then we both look away.
When I hopped onto the #75 to get home last week, one woman who I didn’t recognize didn’t look away. Her stare was a little too strong, so I did. I passed by her, took the last seat before the back door, and when I looked toward the front again, she was still looking. I gave a half smile to acknowledge that I was aware of her stare. She did the same and looked away, and I avoided looking at her again. Something about the encounter was a little weird, and while weird isn’t a rarity on TriMet, I still prefer avoiding it whenever possible.
A few stops later, she dinged the bell and went to the back door to exit. A moment before stepping off the bus, she reached over my shoulder and dropped a business card onto my jacket and said, “This is for you.” I couldn’t see her, and she was gone in a moment, so I expected she had given me directions on how to save my soul from the sins she imagined I was committing. I flipped the card over to see what looked like a standard-issue pre-printed business card with this text:
Hello my name is Ellen*.
If you are not in a relationship, call me. We could go to a Starbucks for coffee.
I was bewildered by the approach for a couple of reasons:
- The boldness. As the adage says, “If you don’t step up to the plate, you’re never going to get a hit.” This woman was definitely stepping to the plate. I imagined how she developed this approach: disillusioned by online dating, eager to have more control over her social life, she decided to be proactive with the men who caught her attention. Frankly, it seems like a bold and courageous method of meeting people. I confess, I have sometimes wanted to write a compliment on a piece of paper and give it to another rider as I exited, to praise their style or smile without the awkwardness of them wondering how soon I would ask about getting together. I would be gone, and in my imaginary version of these events, only the pure sentiment would remain with them on the bus. But I don’t do that, because I worry the awkwardness will remain with them, too.
The difference between my idea and hers is this . . .
- The industry. It was a printed business card, an item generally printed in boxes of 250. (With price breaks for larger quantities.) The card would have made a very different impression if it had been hand written, as if I had so captured her attention that she was compelled to make an overture, to scribble something on a card to ensure that she didn’t miss this unexpected opportunity. With a preprinted card, it felt akin to a woman stepping up to the plate and swinging the bat wildly, over and over, paying no attention to the velocity or location of the pitches. Enough swings and eventually, the bat and the ball will connect.
Of course, I don’t know what Ellen’s real motives are. Maybe she only has this impulse once or twice a year, but her arthritis prevents her from writing a legible note; maybe she’s self-conscious about a stutter and has a variety of cards printed for a variety of occasions when she’d like to speak up; or maybe she really does think I need to be saved from my life of sin but she recognized that literature would be insufficient and a personal intervention was necessary.
I suppose I never will know, because at risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t drink Starbucks.
* Not her real name