I am pretty bad at some normal inter-personal transactions, in my opinion. I don't like cab rides or manicures or attended gas stations or sometimes even haircuts, because I can be painfully uncomfortable with chit-chat. I've gotten better at this in my dotage, and sometimes now, perhaps as an overcompensation, am the chatty one, engaging total strangers in conversation for no apparent reason. Still it was with some apprehension that I dropped my car off this morning for service and agreed to the shuttle ride home.
And for whatever perverse reason -- trying to cure myself of my awkwardness, perhaps? -- rode shot-gun.
The driver of the van was an older gentleman, personable. The car was a bit of a mess, I was glad to see, though not sure why. We had another rider as well. I was nervous but also knew that the ride would be short, as my house is about 10 minutes max from the dealership.
We had no sooner pulled out of the parking lot when our driver, Gary, said, "Have you two ever seen photos of my safari to Africa?" When I clapped my hands (dork!) and said, no, but where can I see them, he produced a photo album from a pocket in the driver's side door and handed it over.
Lions! Giraffes! Elephants! Zebras! Cheetahs! Wildebeest!
Gary and his wife went on a one-month photo safari in Africa in October 2008. All of the photos in the album were taken with a regular camera, no tele-photo, the animals so close you could touch them. And he also had photos of the camps they stayed in, their visits to Masai villages, to schools, to towns. It was the trip of a lifetime he said, a long-time dream of his wife's finally realized.
Crazy that at the dealership, while waiting for my ride home, I'd been reading the wonderful "Spell of the Tiger," writing down the word Ranthambore over and over, dreaming of a trip to that tiger reserve in Rajasthan, lost in my own life-long wish to see big cats with my own two eyes. And here were Gary's photos of lions and his almost-breathless narration.
As I was getting out of the van in front of my house, Gary was just wrapping up a story of their last night in Nairobi, how they had dinner with the owner of the tour company they'd traveled with and how his wife threw her arms around the owner and gave him a big fat kiss, an indication of how deeply, deeply the trip had moved her, satisfied a deep longing she'd had since childhood. Goofily, my eyes started to fill with tears as I said Thank you and stepped out to the sidewalk. Amazing.
And to think I almost begged a ride home from Joe, eager to avoid interaction with strangers. I almost missed the chance to travel on a mini-safari of my own this morning, with my shuttle-van driver for a guide, seeing an hour-old giraffe through his eyes, hearing the passion and excitement in his voice as he relived with us that adventure of a lifetime.
I'm not sure if any shuttle ride in the future will ever match up to this one, but this experience will surely make me approach the next with a different mindset. Who knows what wonders that total stranger will share? When I least expect it, the world blows my mind again. Just so amazing.