Music to my ears

Gloria Er-Chua
Gloria Er-Chua

In first year, whenever I took the three-hour bus ride from Kingston to visit my family, I tried my hardest to avoid sitting with someone else. I quickly mastered the art of repelling potential seatmates, sitting in the outside seat, legs propped up, talking loudly on my cell phone in Mandarin as people boarded the bus.

The iPod shuffle was like a godsend, enabling me to either ignore the person asking about the empty seat or, worst case scenario, allowing me to ignore the person the entire ride.

It was only when I worked in Sherbrooke this summer, and had to travel 11 hours to go home to Toronto every two weeks, that I began to crave brief verbal exchanges with a seatmate; my ears could only handle so many playlist repeats.

First I tried entertaining myself with Coach Canada’s three-minute travel videos, but that failed when, no matter when and where I travelled, I only ever saw the one called “World Destinations: Amsterdam & Rome.”

In June, I finally worked up the courage to ask my seatmate for the time, the weather and anything that could be followed up with another question.

Since then, I’ve met many interesting people, some of whom I keep in touch with.

Michele and I met when I gave up my seats for a couple with a baby to sit together. It was her first time visiting Toronto, she said, and did I know any places she shouldn’t miss?

We spent almost two hours creating a list.

Another time, I rode the train with someone who turned out to be from Queen’s and in my program.

We ended up eating a meal together as we waited for separate bus connections.

If there’s no other benefit to having a temporary travel companion, I notice it’s at least easier to use the bathroom without having to carry my luggage in with me.

Some bus encounters don’t work out. While waiting in line in Montreal, James introduced himself and proceeded to take a seat diagonally behind mine.

The whole ride was set up for failure; it was the week after the Greyhound murder, I was travelling overnight and a passenger announced to the bus that he had forgotten his medication.

When we stopped for a break in Kingston, James followed me into Tim Horton’s. “You know,” he said, “you do this funny thing with your head when you’re asleep. You kind of roll it to the side.” I hurried into the women’s bathroom and left my housemate a frantic, I’m-leaving-you-all-my-assets phone message.

It’s easy, with an iPod, to become isolated from fellow travellers. But, who knows, a potential friend—or perhaps a good horror story—could be sitting next to you, waiting for an introduction.

I’ve learned to appreciate my encounters, good or bad. You might be content with an old playlist but, corny as it sounds, I’m satisfied with simply hearing the melody in my seatmate’s voice.

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