Before I went on my trip, and was dragging my feet with researching where I would go or what I would do, I was telling a friend of mine how unenthusiastic I was to get in my car and drive around the country. (Did I ever mention I’m not the biggest fan of driving? That’s another story.) I told him, I knew from past trips that most things would turn out great, but I really wasn’t looking forward to the days of quiet. The days without any conversation beyond, “Thank you,” “Hello,” and “One please.” He told me that it would all work out, and that I would just make friends on my trip. I thought, that sounds nice, but I think Dean Moriarty is long gone.
It possibly breaks the romantic image of road tripping (and, trust me, many days I wish it were 1965 too), but in my small experience with roaming around U.S., making friends isn’t entirely easy. And sadly I don’t have a ton of meaty conversations with strangers while I’m on the road. It’s not for a lack of trying. I smile, make eye contact, give them a good “Hi,” maybe even ask for directions or something that I already know the answer to but am using as a reason to get the words flowing, but sometimes people aren’t in the talking mood. Or they simply don’t know what to say, I guess. Bartenders and servers are usually the best bet for a chat session, but even they sometimes are more loyal to their regulars, and they are still human and not always feeling up to the small-talk task.
Aside from restaurant and bar staff, I am rarely approached when sitting or walking around by myself. If I am approached, it’s usually by a man. I guess I get that. It hard enough for most women to find good women friends, so traveling and trying to meet another woman who you can just kind of put up with is a whole other challenge. A good woman really is hard to find. Mainly it’s men that come up and talk to me, but most of the men who do approach me (and there aren’t that many) are hoping for more than a nice conversation. The other few men who talk to me are either the friendly/bored restaurant staff or it’s them and their significant other. In the latter case they are usually older than me. I get a lot of fun older couples who talk to me. The kind that like to drink and enjoy retirement. I love these people. Unfortunately there’s not enough of them to go around to help keep my voice from going stale.
Groups of men don’t approach me. Men sitting by themselves (sometimes right next to me at the bar) don’t say a word. Even when I smile at them. I think if I were with a girlfriend, there’d be more attention, from lone men and small groups. If I were with a man, or just simply a lone male wander, I’d talk to other couples, small groups, and hippie travelers. And if I were a man and traveling with another man I’d probably get to talk to just about everyone. I could even pick up a hitchhiker perhaps.
But I’m not any of those. I’m a young woman. I don’t look like a traveler, I look like a twenty-three-year-old who is alone in a bar or a restaurant. My cell phone is away. My book is in my bag. I’m watching a muted ball game on T.V., eating my burger and drinking my beer, and no one is saying a word. They’re just looking my way.