The Chance Encounter

Today, as I was walking down my mountain (and it is, indeed, my mountain), I heard a car slowing to a stop beside me.

I had your average “Do I know you or are you going to steamroll over me gradually like in Austin Powers?” moment as I turned my head to identify the car. A man with white hair and a very sweet smile said, “Can I give you a ride?”

About twelve instincts said, “No,” and not the least because I was carrying two small shopping bags full of garbage and an empty pizza box because garbage pickup in my neighborhood only happens twice and it only happens in the mornings when it hurts to be awake, but I hesitated. My neighborhood is also in a very safe part of town with a great deal of very sweet older people living here, and the man had to be over seventy.

I said, “Is it really all right?” and he nodded, laughing, “It’s fine.”

I thanked him and hobbled into the passenger’s seat, trying to keep the shopping bags close to the open window. He chuckled, “Garbage?” in English and in Japanese I said sheepishly, “Yes, sorry. Summer, you know. Bug precaution.”

As he drove down the road, I thanked him again in Japanese and he waved it off politely. After some small talk, I decided that his English level seemed to exceed my Japanese level, so we continued talking in English. I commented on his skill and he demurred, “It used to be, but it’s gotten worse over time.”

“Did you live abroad at some point?”

“Yes. In Boston.”

“Ahh, Boston is beautiful.”

He smiled broadly. “It is. I went to university there.”

“At Boston University?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

I nodded, making a quiet noise to show I was impressed.

“I also went to Columbia in New York for graduate school. They were great – New York and Boston. I lived in the States for six years.”

He did have a bit of an accent, but I admired his fluency and natural pace.

“What did you do for work?” I asked.

“I was in media.”

“And now?”

“The same. In Washington, I worked in the White House.” He smiled out the windshield.

“My sister works there,” I said, grinning.

His eyes widened and he looked at me for the first time since he chuckled at my apparent garbage hoarding. “Really?”

I nodded proudly. “She’s got a very cool job. What did you do there?”

He said, “I was a journalist.”

“Very cool. Did you ever talk to any presidents?”

He smiled. “I did. Two. Eisenhower and Kennedy. I covered Kennedy’s inauguration.”

I gaped. I managed a polite word or two in a tone that implied, “Holy shit,” more than the, “Wow,” that came out.

He pulled the car to the side of the road and I thanked him again. Just to have a twist ending to the ride, I introduced myself and he chuckled and introduced himself in return. I thanked him again a few times and we parted ways, me to my private lesson and he to the bank, where I expect he was meeting a secret agent because there’s no way his life didn’t get twelve times more interesting than the prologue I got to hear in the car.


NOTE: Never get into cars with strangers, kids. Wait until you’re twenty-seven years old and don’t want to lug garbage on foot for fifteen minutes until you get to the train station. Then it’s fine.


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