February 22, 2016

The Things that Happen Right Outside the Car Window Will Amaze You.


I went out the other day without my phone. I planned to sit in the car while my husband went into the hardware store and check my e-mails and Facebook while he was inside, but when we got there I realized I’d forgotten my phone.

I used to spend a lot of time in the car without a cell phone. My previous husband would travel twice a year to Northern California to call on his customers. While he was inside at his appointments I’d spend the time sitting in the car waiting or trying to find a half hour pedicure, or sitting in coffee shops watching people and talking to them.

That’s how I ended up talking to a man whose wife had been found dead in their motel room a few days before and had left him stranded: “She was the one who did all the driving.” It’s how I happened to talk to an over six foot tall woman with the most incredible blond wig and long false eyelashes who, in the middle of the conversation, started crying about how hard it was to be a woman her size in our culture. And how I saw two black kids with impossibly low slung jeans take their ear phones out of their ears and stop on the sidewalk to help a very pale, very old man get on the bus.

Watching people and talking to them was my entertainment.

It did more than that for me though. It also restored my faith in human nature and nurtured it.

When I forgot my phone the other day, I realized that I didn’t watch and engage like I used to. With my phone I no longer experienced the world around me as a great stage on which an ongoing human drama was being played out—comedy, tragedy, romance—instead, I’d begun to see the world around me as an interruption to the world of my phone, where behavior lacks spontaneity, where the personal self is “branded,” and engagement rarely goes beyond comment/reply/comment/like/smiley face/gone.

I also noticed that day in the car that the real world, the world around me, strange as it may seem, doesn’t move as fast as the one on my phone. The real world requires that I pause and take notice of that older woman struggling to separate the grocery carts. It requires that I notice the mom pulling up next to me and her tone of voice when she goes around to let her toddler out of his seat. It requires that I notice the man who looks to be about 70 years old pulling in all the grocery carts and putting them in their little corrals. Does he work for the grocery store? Is he on salary? How old is he?

Before my husband got back to the car a big white SUV pulled up in the spot next to me. The driver, a very big, very fit young man with enormous shoulders and arms walked around to the rear of the SUV, opened its hatch and pulled out a wheelchair, the kind that are used for sports—no back on it, just a seat and wheels.

The man brought the chair around, opened the back door of the SUV, reached in and in one swift move, picked up and cradled in his arms another man who was almost his same size, deftly placing him in the wheel chair. They bumped fists, said some things only guys say to each other and took off together for the grocery store.

There was just so much to see in those few moments. So much love and tenderness and devotion and kindness. It had such an air of, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother” about it, except one of the men was black and the other was white.  The thought of them being brothers was communicated by the comfortable way they acted  with each other. That and the way they took off to head into the grocery store. I mean, it was just a grocery store, but “Let’s go do it man!” was written all over them.

When my husband got back I told him what I’d seen and more. I told him that the world was full of little love stories like that—that’s what it was, a little love story—and that I’d been missing them.

“I claim to get ‘inspiration’ from my phone,” I told him. “From all the articles that are in The Times and Bloomberg and The Guardian, even from my Facebook page.”

“But those aren’t the stories that are really worth telling. The ones that are really worth telling happen right outside my car window—that is, when I don’t have my head down in my phone so that I don’t notice them.”




Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Travis May

Image: Flickr/Alexandre Normand

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