You aren’t a child anymore. It is OK to talk to strangers. Wandering back roads takes one to many interesting places, but those places have so much more meaning when you meet the people that live there.
I loved Charles Kuralt’s “On the Road.” He travelled around the country in a motor-home (six motor-homes over the years) creating segments for CBS News for over twenty years.
He said, “thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” And for quite a while, I would have said his commitment to back roads was what appealed to me. But now, I realize it was not the towns he visited, it was the people he met.
Alie is better than I at striking up conversations with complete strangers. Finishing our lunch in a Wellington, New Zealand pub, she noted three fellows next to us had been served a large portion of fries with their sandwiches plus a huge bowl of fries: “Too bad you don’t have enough fries there!” We finally had to break off the conversation forty-five minutes later to get back to our ship. One was a Member of their Parliament and the other two were retired Members.
We visited a lighthouse in Newfoundland on a rainy foggy day. No one else was there, and the park ranger invited us to have a cup of tea. Reared in the area, she married a fisherman when she was seventeen years old. She told him she would crew for him, and he replied that it was “bad luck” to have a woman on a boat. She replied it was worse luck to give a third of your catch to your crew, and she became the first female lobster fisherman in the Maritimes. She and her husband raised three children, fishing in the “summer” and cutting wood and building traps in the winter. After her husband retired, she went back to school, graduated and got a job as a park ranger. Later, we went back on a sunny day and took her picture, but it was busy, and there was no time to talk.
On our search for Alie’s Irish family farmstead, we had a great conversation with an old woman sitting by her tiled stove in a cluttered old home. Even though we later had a meal and good conversation with friends on a farm, their home was much more modern, and both the home and they lacked her long history.
The Swan family lives in a very modern home, but it was fascinating to talk to them about their experiences and work. Their attractive daughter made an unusual career choice and was working nights as a police officer.
Over the years, we have talked with a man in Michigan who raised shaggy cows, a man in Idaho who raised alpacas, and a man in Montana who grew rye. Each had his own unique story.
I’m going to make a better effort to talk to strangers this next trip.