How I fight crazy, strange, and beautiful people

Yesterday I wrote about my unusual Uber ride from the Jacksonville airport to Amelia Island.

In response to that post, friends and reader commented on how often I seem to meet such “interesting” and “strange” people and how my life can oftentimes seem more storyworthy than most.

This is not true, but I understand the perception. Two things make this so:

I open up a space for others to speak.

My Uber driver didn’t volunteer his conspiracy theories to me, and he didn’t launch into his misguided political diatribe unprompted. After getting into the car, I engaged in conversation. I asked him his name. I asked him if he drove for Uber for a living, which led to him describing his two other jobs.

Then I asked about those jobs. I demonstrated genuine curiosity. I learned a lot about the process of iPhone screen repair. I can now tell you the economics of mall kiosks in the Jacksonville area and the way that Apple ships parts to repair technicians. I can explain to you why repairing an iPhone screen is easier than repairing a Samsung screen, and I can explain how a nail salon can pay more than $200,000 in rent each year and still turn over an excellent profit.

All of this came from me asking questions and demonstrating a genuine interest in his life.

Then I asked him what he did in the little bit of free time he had. “Do have time for hobbies?” I asked.

“Do you like conspiracy theories?”

“Not really,” I said. “But I’d love to hear what you think.”

This is how I ended up with a story.

I open up space for people to talk and tell me stories. Instead of staring at my phone for the duration of the ride, which would’ve been easy, I decided to leave the damn thing in my pocket and engage with a human being. I did the same thing on the four flights to and from Florida. On each leg of the trip, I opened up a space for my seat mate to speak.

The first was not interested. He was watching a movie on his phone, so I did the same.

The next one spoke limited English, making conversation impossible.

The third, a young woman, fell asleep almost instantly and ended up awkwardly draped across my chest (a story in itself).

But the fourth, a man named Dave who lives in Meriden, chatted with me for a while, telling me the story of his visit with his ailing mother and “impossible sister.”

Not exactly conspiracy theories and iPhone economics, but he shared a story with me before turning back to his phone.

I talk to people. Part of this is a learned behavior after spending 15 years with my wife, Elysha, and part of it is my desire to hear stories. Engage with people. Make the moments of my life more meaningful and memorable than a screen ever will.

I tell my own stories.

While in Florida, I told a story about a challenging time during my childhood to an audience of a few hundred. I was honest, authentic, and vulnerable. I spoke about things that many are not willing to speak about.

In response, at least a dozen people shared their own stories with me. Some told me deeply personal stories about their own childhood struggles. I spoke to one man about our mutual love for the Atari 2600 game Adventure (and have since downloaded the game using an online emulator). The general manager of a hotel on the island offered me a free room if I bring my family for vacation.

One woman told me a secret that she had been carrying for more than 40 years. She had tears in her eyes as she spoke to me.

When you tell your stories, others are compelled to tell you their own, and as a result, connections are made. Doors are opened. The chance for storyworthy moments increases significantly.

It’s true that my life has been filled with some unusual moments. My life has been saved by paramedics twice. I was homeless for a period of time. Arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. Carried from my childhood home in the middle of the night by a firefighter. Survived a horrific armed robbery. Been victimized by an anonymous, widespread attack on my character and my career. Fed my pet rabbit at Thanksgiving.

A lot of crazy stuff. You have some, too, I’m sure.

But eventually you tell all those stories. All those storyworthy moments from your past become known.

Then what?

When people say that my life seems more storyworthy than most, I point out my willingness to say yes to whatever opportunity crosses my path. My ability to see stories in moments that others do not.

But I also point out my willingness to listen. My desire to open up space and time for others to tell me their stories, and my willingness to share my own.

A storyworthy life is one filled with people. Connection and engagement. It’s about getting out of the house, turning off the television, lifting your face from the screen, and finding someone new. Doing something new. Opening your heart and mind to opportunities.

It means asking your Uber driver questions about his life rather than reading email or scrolling through social media. And finding out some disturbing facts about him in the process.