Traveling through England for the first time in my life I ran into so many well-wishers that asked me what I wanted to see while I was there.
“Not much,” was my standards response. “I’m not a classic culture seeker. Museums, art, and history are not my best companions. I really just want to see how other people live.”
As I circled back at the latter end of my trip to some of the lovely new friends I had encountered early on in my English travel, the question repeatedly came up, “What did you think?”
Similar to the classic response of the waitress at a Chinese restaurant I visited fifteen years ago that has been in my lingo rotation every since, when I asked the difference between #22 and #23 on the menu, "Same thing only different."
My theory is that people everywhere are essentially the same. We all have different customs, nuances, barriers, freedoms, languages and dictions, yet inside we’re all people just trying to make some sort of connection with life.
I’m always looking for the connection with people. I need to interact with others, whether it be with words, activities, gestures, or even just direct eye contact, which to me, is the acknowledgement of I see you and you are just as integral a part of the world as I am, no matter the differences.’
The differences often are debunked upon closer inspection. Take, for example, the blokes my girlfriends and I encountered in a Manchester pub. While sharing boisterous conversation over wine and lagers at our own table, 3 gents, each pushing 70 and standing in a cluster at the bar in the next room over, decided to add perspective to our girls’ night exchange. One of the men made what appeared to be a goofy-as-all-getup come-one line toward my friend. Another made a big deal about us four of us being gay, and all three of the joes razzed us relentlessly about Trump. Our initial impression equated to chauvinistic, albeit it jovial, drinking mates, trying to strike something up with the womenfolk. Before we began our natural ladylike habit of writing them off as assholes, the most outgoing of the three men made an attempt to relate to us by acting as the mediator between his rather outspoken top dog group leader throwing out Trumpism after Trumpism, and our revulsion at his suggestions. After a few runs at it, the rusty middle man developed a common ground for all of us….practicing tolerance of one another.
He discovered I resided in Chicago and pointed out that his other buddy, who was sporting the Neil Diamond look, had children living in Chicago. I tried to bridge the gap with Forever in Blue Jeans by initiating a conversation about his grown kids - where did they live, what did they do, how old were they, etc. While his shirt was unbuttoned half way down his chest, his spirit appeared to be zipped up tight. He wouldn’t make eye contact with me and seemed unwilling to talk about his offspring in Chicago at all. As a last ditch effort, I asked him if he’d visited them there, and he said no, that it would never happen.
“”Why? Do you all not get along?” I probed. “It seems like a perfect opportunity to spend time with family with all of them in one city that you could visit in one trip.”
“They come to visit me every so often. That’s enough,” he snapped. End of story.
“You should visit them,” I pushed forward against his stonewalling, “I bet they would love it.”
“Oh rubbish,” he swatted me away. “I don’t want to. I’m a 68-year-old man. What am I going to do going in Chicago? They have their own lives, they don’t need me.” Bingo. The truth of the matter.
I stopped pushing and shared with him what I guessed to be a similar situation with my own father in which he doesn’t find it necessary to come visiting to Chicago, even though it’s just a few hours drive for him from Indianapolis.
“We don’t see eye to eye on anything,” I laughed. “His 75-year-old opinions on politics and religion and almost everything else in life makes me often wonder if I was raised by a pack of wolves, as it so acutely juxtaposes my own 45-years-in-the-making value system.”
But he does visit and it’s meaningful. It feels good to be acknowledged by a parent during a visit as a grown person with my own life, even if it doesn’t overtly overlap his at all.
I left Song Sung Blue and hit it to the bathroom, thinking about how we all share the bullheadedness of convincing ourselves that the fictitious stories we create in our minds to address those things in life that we’re fearful of, is real.
Guessing he won’t be coming to America anytime soon, I thought to myself.
As I headed back to my own girl group of four, Solitary Man held up a picture on his phone and asked me to take a look.
“This is my daughter,” he beamed as he gazed at the lighted screen showing her social activity from Facebook. “It says she’s at Sheffield’s in this picture. Have you heard of it?”
So happens it’s a mile away from me in Chicago. Susanna is his daughter’s name. She’s beautiful and used to be married to an English chap and now lives the single life with a girlfriend in the states. His boys are close by and enjoyable company. He shared the bare minimum with me; he connected.
“Maybe I could still make the trip over,” he considered. “What time of year is best to visit?”