Driving in cars (and planes) with complete strangers

Yesterday morning, in the midst of the snowstorm, I drove past a woman walking in the road. She had an umbrella braced ahead of her and a CVS bag in her hand.

I pulled over and offered a ride. She was wary at first, but I assured her that lunatic killers don't go out in snowstorms.

The only lunatic on the road in a snowstorm is the one in search of an Egg McMuffin, some donuts for his kids, and a grande decaf for his wife.

Her name was Denise. She lives nearby. She owns a car but is afraid to drive in the snow. She underestimated the strength of the storm when she left the house and didn't realize that none of the sidewalks would shoveled. She works as a receptionist in a doctor's office in Wethersfield. She was grateful for my offer of a ride, saying that it "felt like it was the 1970's again," when drivers picked up pedestrians all the time.

Later on, I was at Bradley International Airport, approaching the security gates when a woman standing beside me said to an airport official, "I've never been in an airport before. What do I do?"

I offered to help her through her the security check and get to her gate. We removed our shoes. Emptied our pockets. Took off our coats. Removed laptops from our bags. After we passed through the scanners, I walked her to her gate and left her with an American Airlines agent who promised to get her on the plane.

The woman's name was Janie. She lives in Old Lyme. She was on her way to Philadelphia for her friend's wedding.

An hour later, I was flying somewhere over Pennsylvania, talking to a man named Jim who was seated beside me. Jim lives in Chicago but does business in Hartford regularly. We talked about the Chicago Bears, Gillette Stadium, his decision not to have children, and backgammon.

Six hours later, I was standing in a Chicago living room, surrounded by strangers, in the midst of their Christmas celebration. Several of the people at the party knew me from my appearances on The Moth Radio Hour and were excited to meet me. They had been listening to my stories on my Youtube channel before I had arrived. I was offered borscht. I showed them photos of Elysha and the kids. I met a Jewish rabbi amidst this family of Catholics who happens knows a rabbi who I worked with a month ago in New York. We discussed the economics of the Jewish temple. I learned about the role that storytelling plays in The Lost Boys of Peter Pan.

An hour later, I was sitting in the passenger seat of a white sedan, driving through miles of Illinois cornfields with a family from Urbana, telling stories about life and love and professional disasters.

Needless to say, it was an unusual day for me.

It also occurs to me that other than the variety of locations, it might be a normal day in the life of my wife, Elysha, who seems perfectly capable of making a new and lifelong friend wherever she goes.

I am perfectly comfortable in the company of strangers today, happy to chat and tell stories and listen with an open heart. I might even enjoy meeting new people and spending time with them, as long as I'm not in a hurry or hungry.

I suspect that Elysha has a lot to do with this. Spend enough time in the company of someone like her and you can't help but realize the value of reaching out to people whenever possible and seeking a connection.

I'm still not likely to make a brunch date with a stranger in a Starbucks line or arrange playdates for the kids with random mothers in the doctor's office (both things Elysha has done), but I'm getting there.

Of course, if given the choice, I'd still choose these three over strangers any day.