People you encounter every day while commuting, working, or running errands are like Neighbors-Without-Walls. Despite seeing them regularly, they're still strangers. Unless you're the type to strike up small talk (shocker: I'm not), you never actually speak to them. You both go about your days and rarely take the time to think about how your lives intersect. There are several people I see daily or weekly due to my work routine; I know nothing about them except what I've observed during my brief interactions with them. [Nicknames given to protect privacy and because nicknames are fun.]
North Bound California Bus Driver
This is the first "regular" I see during the work week. He has a need for speed and more often than not catches up to the bus ahead of us (mind you, buses are ideally spaced 6-12 minutes apart). He then pulls up alongside said bus and shouts over to the other driver to give him some of her (it's always a woman he catches up to) passengers. I'm never sure what this accomplishes. Based on the sprinkling of gray in his short beard, I'd put him at 60-ish--a younger Morgan Freeman. Because he's usually more concerned about making the light by my stop, doesn't really say much when I board. He wears his CTA-regulated baseball cap, a pair of driving glasses, and a silver earring in his right ear. Possibly there's one in his left ear as well, but I've honestly never seen that side of his face.
East Bound Belmont Bus Driver
Depending on how quickly my first driver gets to 3000 N California, I make the second half of my commute with a guy who looks like the Soup Nazi's very calm uncle. He sits almost regally in the driver's seat and merely nods when people board. He has thick gray-white hair and a mustache and looks like he's just returned from a tropical vacation, what with his tan skin and relaxed composure. Still, there was one day I was clearly crossing the street in the middle of traffic to get to the bus stop before the bus. He had to have seen me stopped on the yellow line, waiting for him to pass so I could finish crossing (I could practically reach out and touch the bus as he drove by). Instead of pausing at the stop so I could make my way around and onto the bus, he tapped his brakes, making his "stop," then gunned it down Belmont...all I could think to myself was "No Bus Ride for You!"
Jewel is the closest cheapish grocery store to my job, so I'm there at least once each week. I've learned to go before 2:45 pm unless I feel like fighting my way around the store as hundreds of Lane Tech-ers get bus passes at the kiosk inside, walk up and down the aisles holding hands with their significant others, or eat the food they are about to purchase before getting to the self checkout lines, supervised by a middle-aged Mrs. Potts-looking woman. It is during these after-school hours that the two Customer Service Managers are most frazzled. The younger cashiers and baggers--the skinny kid with the slicked back hair, blue hair extension girl--remain unfazed. I usually end up in line with the other grown up shoppers. (Senior citizens and housewives, who else goes shopping in the middle of the day?) The cashier I see most reminds me of Carlos Solis, if he had a little more paunch. He's always pleasant and during Jewel's winter giveaway contest tended to go liberal with handing out game pieces.
Whole Foods Crew Members
These guys, I tell you. They're a little like Disney employees (sorry, "cast members") in that the whole thing sorta feels like an act, except at Whole Foods a beard is not only allowed, it's revered. Along with flannel, old man stocking caps, Birkenstocks, thick-framed glasses...I think you get the picture. The Whole Foods near my job is where foodie-hipsters go to have minimum wage jobs. Everyone seems super nice, almost too nice. I think they all get high on the natural cheeses. Another word about the cheese section: it's the perfect place to pass a little gas without suspicion, thanks to the competing smells of Munster and Limburger. Not that I've ever done this...just an observation.
WalGreens CTA Girl
Every month I need another 30-day CTA pass and every month this woman sells it to me. Once she mistakenly sold me a One Day Fun Day for the price of a 30-day, but graciously made the exchange for me when I came back fifteen minutes later. I think she'd get along well with Carlos from Jewel. Do you think there's a way I can get them to meet?
Belmont Bus Buddy
This is the guy who inspired this post. So far all of these people are at work when I see them, but this is just another commuter who I see at least once, sometimes twice, each day. We both get off the 77 at Damen in the morning and walk north, then we see each other again at night when we get back on the 77. He's tall and stocky with long scraggly hair and he walks as if he's perpetually about to fall forward, but catches himself by taking another step. I have no idea where he spends the seven hours between commutes, but I can only guess he's at work like I am. He's the only "regular" I see that I've thought to start talking to, only because it's so painfully obvious we see each other all the time, but (again) that's not my style. One day I took a different route to work and still saw him, walking on the sidewalk ahead of me. And today he wasn't on the bus with me, but as I was walking past the Speedway on the way to work, he came walking out. It's absurd how often I've seen this man.
South Bound California Bus Buddy
I recently noticed this dude on my rides home, mostly because I get on at the third stop of this route so the bus tends to be on the empty side. And this guy is hard to miss. Again, he has longer, scraggly hair and is on the huskier side. Now that I think about it, he could very well be the Belmont guy's son or much younger brother. Because the bus is so empty, he always sits in the same seat and spends the ride playing games on his Kindle. Then he gets off at Milwaukee, presumably to get on the Blue Line.
As with my geographical neighbors, I wonder if these people I see so often have their own character sketches of me and how true to form they are. I should also note that while these people do see me fairly often, I've tried to not get too routine-y. There's a lot to be said for spontaneity: you're less likely to be robbed, it shows you can go with the flow (see, I AM flexible!), and sometimes a small change is what you need when things get dull. (Or when things get frustrating--see here.)
Need practice being spontaneous? Tomorrow's a great day to start--take a leap and switch things up for the extra day we get. I know I'll be taking full advantage...I might even have granola instead of oatmeal for breakfast, whoa, dream big!