I find meeting strangers and interactions with strangers to be one of the most interesting/intriguing experiences. I always insist on sitting in the front seat on cab rides to get to talk to the cab driver whether it’s just small talk or a conversation about where they are from and their families. Some of the people that have left the biggest impressions on me were strangers to me at the time, and I have not even had contact with them since; these simple moments of connecting with a stranger are ones I cherish very much, and my travels have presented me with many of these types of impressionable meetings. For instance, I was in Costa Rica when I was fifteen for a service trip, and I spent our six hour ride from the city to the Pacific Coast of the country sitting next to our cab driving who let me practice my Spanish with him. He didn’t speak any English, but he was willing to speak slowly to me about his family and ask me questions as well. He had such a purity about him in that he was so positive and had a zest for life despite the poor conditions he lived in. Another time I was on a flight coming back from a trip to Montana with a small group from my high school, and the whole flight I was conversing a man who was probably twenty-six about the trips we just had in Montana. He was the leader of a Christian Church group that went on very spiritually based hiking trips. We were talking about our educations, our interests in serving others, and I just remember the flight going by so quickly from the genuinely good conversation we were having about life in general. Then my first year at Loyola, I went on Spring Break Outreach to Camden, New Jersey. Our volunteer house was next to a bi-lingual church that I went to one morning for mass alone. I was the youngest in the room, and a young seminarian named Kevin approached me because he said he’s never seen me at the congregation. I explained my reasoning for being there and how I loved hearing mass in Spanish, so I wanted to learn the responses. It was such a coincidence he went to school in Maryland as well, and he was very kind introducing me to others at the mass explaining why our group was in Camden. Later that day, there was a small book in the foyer of the volunteer house with my name on it and a note. The seminarian left me a whole book of the sayings in mass in Spanish. It is all these moments that show me there are so many good hearted, open people in this world; we ourselves just have to be open to meet others so we can find them.
I thought about these instances when I was reading On the Road because the hitchhiking adventures of Sal brought him in contact with so many different people. If he hadn’t gotten in the car with just one of those people, he would have ended up on a completely different path even though he had a set destination in mind. Sal’s insecurity with how he would get to his destination with limited resources brought up a lot of questions in his mind. This was especially evident when he got to Des Moines and had a strange moment of confusion yet clarity as he declared he was between his youth and future being halfway across the country towards the West. He did not know who he was for a moment but he knew where he was going. He owes this movement to the strangers that took him in along the way who facilitated some kind of moment whether it was physically or internally. Sal trusted the strangers along the way that everything they were saying was the truth, and this is a testament to the free-spirit attitude we get from him during this extensive trip. As I said before, opening up to a stranger can be an amazing experience, and although Sal was not exactly seeking enrichment from those he drove with, he was still presented with interesting groups and individuals where some shared stories and some did not; in the end though, they were all still apart of his trip.