In 99% percent of day to day life, we have a chance to blend in. To act ordinarily. To smile and nod to others passing you on the street. To exchange pleasantries while paying at a grocery store or coffee shop. You go about these normal frictionless interactions.
Well that all goes out the window when you start driving a giant green van prompting people to approach you.
This fall, I had my first chance to hit the road in our new van. Gone were the days of the “incognito chew toy salesman,” and here were the days of funny looks, laughs, and waves on the road. It’s a funny sensation to get used to – being observed like that. I did learn quickly to tone down my singing in the car to be a little less performative.
My very first stop, a whole 90 seconds down the road, was a gas station to fill up for my 20 hour (minus 90 seconds) trip to Kansas City from Connecticut.
It’s a gas station I must have gone to 40 times within the year. A small but mighty operation with a little walk-up booth instead of a walk-in convenience store. At 6 a.m., it was the first time I saw it completely empty.
Wheeling up in the big green van, I begin pumping gas. Then I hear a voice.
“Hey man! Awesome ride! You mind if I grab a photo of it?”
I walked around the corner of the van to see a middle-aged man with long, wavy gray hair, who had just popped out of the little gas station booth.
“Yeah, of course!” I said. Free marketing for Benebone!
I caught his name, Bruce. And we talked for a few minutes about the big travels I had ahead in the coming days. Adventures I couldn’t wrap my head around then, and can wrap my head around even less now. Bruce had once road tripped to Kansas City nearly 30 years prior. He gave me some advice for the drive, though I think some things may have changed since then, including the invention of Google Maps (or MapQuest, for that matter).
He wished me luck on my journey, and I was hopping into the car door, asked one last question:
“Where are you coming from?”
I pointed up the road.
“Well then I’ll see you when you get back.” He said.
And he did.
2 weeks later, I pulled into the gas station. Bruce popped right out. I was only there for a short stop before heading down the coast, but we had a nice moment catching up. I had given him a few Benebones for his girlfriend’s dog, which was received with rave reviews.
“I’ve got a little something for you, too.” He said. “Just one second.”
Bruce popped into the little booth and returned with a soda in his hand. Passing it over, he said:
“It’s Barq’s. Get it?”
I spend most of my time in public blending in. Acting ordinarily. Not hauling a big green van. Life’s pretty easy that way. Efficient. Though I do wonder how many Bruces I’ve missed out on.
I’ve tried to add a little bit of Bruce to my day-to-day life. True curiosity. True excitement. It takes actions much smaller than a big green van to make a person’s day.