I've had pretty good luck engaging travelers in conversation. It's fairly common for people to ask each other: "where are you heading?" I've started many chats with that opening gambit. Some will tell me where they are heading and nothing more. Others will ask the same question of me, to which I give them my answer about traveling the country, the project, etc. If they seem intrigued by the project, we'll chat a little more and when there appears to be some trust, I ask if they would be interested in sharing their story.
This evening, the bus leaving Portland was moderately crowded. I was sitting towards the back of the bus. Across the aisle from me was a young lady who, I'd guess, was about 20. She carried two bags stuffed to the hilt with clothing, blankets, pillows, about six hard cover books, boxes of Wheat Thins, a stuffed lamb and a ducky umbrella. At our second stop, most of the people got off the bus to smoke. I decided to stay aboard, as did the young lady. So, as I had done many times previously, I looked across the aisle and said: "So, where are you heading?" Before the "ing" left my mouth, I knew I had made a mistake. With the bus fully illuminated, I could see that she was closer to 16 than 20. Anyway, she looked at me and said: "It's none of your fucking business."
Indeed, it wasn't my business. I sat there and imagined her sitting at the kitchen table with her mother prior to taking the bus. The mother was doing a police sketch of someone who looked exactly like me: old, creepy, longish hair stuck underneath a weird hat, torn jeans (but not the kind that are purposely torn and sold for hundreds of dollars at Nordstrom) and five day old stubble (but not the kind of sexy stubble seen on the faces of celebs like Brad Pitt or Kim Kardashian).
"If this guy even looks at you, give him the finger," mom says. "And if he keeps talking, you know what to do next."
With that, I imagined that, beneath the blankets and hard cover books and Wheat Thins and stuffed lamb and ducky umbrella was a gallon of mace in one of those Weed-Be-Gone sprayers and a machete. The young girl boarded the bus, on the lookout for "that guy" and that guy, in her mind, turned out to be ME! I felt terrible and wanted to apologize, but thought about the machete and decided to let it go. I feel like she didn't stop looking at me until we arrived in Sacramento; just waiting for my next move, her hand poised on the sprayer.
So,today's lesson from the road: if I see anybody, man or woman, young or old, and that person is carrying a stuffed lamb and/or ducky umbrella, I need to just turn away and mind my.own fucking business!