Familiar Places, Stranger’s Faces, Wills And Graces (Not The Show)

Crammed onto a trans-bay bus this morning, headed from Oakland to downtown San Francisco, I noticed the girl standing beside me to be sporting a Williams College pin on her shoulder bag. This was a significantly larger detail to observe than initially understandable– Williams College is in the small, suburban, western Massachusetts town of Williamstown. I went to high school (or tried to, for a few years) in Williamstown. Depending on which way you walk, the trip from Williamstown to the Bay Area of California– where I was cruising along on a bus this morning– will take you about 930 hours, and totals just under 3,000 miles.

The world is really not that big.

After stoking the embers of my nearly extinguished courage, I asked this stranger about her pin. Turns out, her younger sister just started at Williams last fall. We had a very nice conversation, in spite of the cramped, stinky bus on which we were riding, and traded stories about growing up– me, in rural, woodsy Massachusetts where there are more cows than people, and she, in a suburb of Los Angeles, where cows are a rare visual sensation to behold.

It was nice to have a friendly conversation with a stranger whose intentions I was (mostly) sure weren’t to put some part of themselves inside of me. And it’s also really nice to feel a common thread with someone whose life, for all other purposes and intentions, has nothing at all in common with mine.

The even greater, albeit (isn’t that a super word? I feel like it ascends all other words surrounding it) more subtle implication  of our random morning bus meeting was that the two of us would never have crossed paths if the trans-bay tunnel, through which I ride the train to work every morning, hadn’t been closed down due to a massive fire in West Oakland.

From the front door of my brightly colored, stucco apartment complex in the East Bay, to the gargantuan glass doors of the 21-story office building in downtown San Francisco where I work, is a total distance of 8.3 miles.

Commuting one way or the other takes anywhere from thirty minutes, to an hour and a half, and requires *at least* two forms of public transportation. Or, a very frustrating two-hour camping trip on the Bay Bridge, if you’re brave– or, stupid– enough to drive.

Interesting circumstantial juxtapositions– also called “coincidences,” for those of you who don’t over embellish every attempt you make at communicating– are not so uncommon. Nor are they as impressive as humans like the interpret them to be.

Like, for every one time iTunes magically selects the song you subconsciously wanted to hear on shuffle, rather than any of the other 5,725 songs in your library, it will select one of those fifty-seven-hundred songs that you don’t want to hear maybe 149 times. Or more.

But the magic sticks with us, and the mundane slips our minds. If it didn’t work that way, I’d walk around all day entirely bemused at the notion that nothing interesting at all was happening all around me, all the time. And that’s for stoners and babies, not grown-ups with appearances to maintain.

Still, it’s a neat thing to feel how simultaneously minuscule, yet massive, the world actually is.

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