March 31, 2pm EST (felt more like 7am PST) – Newark, New Jersey
When I sleepily deplane in Newark, NJ, I make my way to baggage claim, grumpy that my scheme of two large purses plus a carry-on suitcase didn’t work and I still had to gate check. Unbeknownst to me, this little detail would start the adventure in a surprisingly fantastic way:
Our bags were slow to arrive, so I sat to wait, when a 6′ 3″ rugged type sits to my right. He’s wearing a shawl collar sweater, Frye boots (apparently I was looking closely enough to notice this small detail, creepy) and is thumbing through some book on maybe Meditative practices? I can’t tell, and I don’t want to stare too obviously. I steal a glance at best and keep focused on the impending luggage. And yet, with other seats open around us, I have to assume that at the very least, he’s not trying to avoid me, right?
I’ve started to realize that I’m generally pretty nervous that the cool and attractive public will think I’m some super weird or awkward girl, so I try and employ a don’t speak unless spoken to policy. Sometimes. But sometimes I just can’t help myself…
So, because I’m in New York, because I’m on an adventure and hope to squeeze every last drop from the experience, I turn to him and lean in just slightly. “Do you know if I can catch a train to Penn station from there?” I gesture toward the sign for trains. “Where are you trying to get to?” he asks, clearly thoughtful and diligent so as not to give wrong directions. Thanks, Rugged Airport Guy, appreciated. “Harlem.” I smile, as if to say, how interesting is it that I’m off to Harlem, you should probably ask me about that, since that’s not likely the destination you’d guess. He confirms it’s where I want to go, so I thank him…and get back to the luggage watching.
Luggage soon in hand, I haul it a few hundred yards to make my way to a kiosk to buy my ticket, and up walks Rugged Airport Guy. I’ve just finished paying when I catch his eye, and I give him a half-smile as if to say, “thanks for the directions, clearly I was competent enough to follow them! How great am I!?” And smiling to myself at the fun of a little shared moment with a cute, new, almost-not-really friend, I head upstairs to catch the train. But up walks Rugged Airport Guy again, and standing there, one or the other of us opens the conversation, as it only seems natural at this point after a few brief encounters. I wish I remember the finer details, but it’s the basics, you know? Something about us both arriving from LA and why I’m headed to Harlem, that type of thing.
Next, we ride the light rail to Penn Station together, chatting more about the basics, and I give him the few details about being in NYC on sabbatical, no job and just time to explore the city, see my brother, and see a few friends who live in the area. I’m surprised that he keeps the conversation going, again, due to his inherent coolness but I try to push past the fearful, misplaced 3rd grade girl thoughts of “why are you talking to me??” and just act like he’s a normal person…not a ridiculously attractive, rugged 6′ 3″ Yoga instructor. Oh yes, forgot to mention that part.
We get off the light rail to transfer to the subway and I try and figure out how to play things – I’d really like to just straight up follow him because he’s from Jersey and knows where he’s going, whereas I have almost no clue where I need to be, and the whole few hours of sleep on the LAX floor and a plane isn’t really helping the neurons fire in my brain. But I’m also concerned about coming off as a random stalker girl, so I try and just keep pace with him without overtly seeming like I’m tailing him. This may be easier said than done, but he ushers me into the train, and follows alongside me, and effortlessly lifts my luggage up above the seat. Because he’s a super handsome 6′ 3″ Rugged Yoga Instructor. Naturally. Now, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to sit next to him – again, trying to come off NOT as a stalker, but he moves aside to let me in first, so I take his cue and sit down. Gullp. Now I’ve been a couple feet away from this cute yoga instructor stranger for the past 30 minutes with another 20 minute (or something?) ride ahead of us. We chat a bit further, but I’ll be honest, I have almost no idea how to interact with him…I try to be myself but I’ve always seen myself as a bit of a nerd, such that when I interact with seemingly cool, normal people, I assume that quickly, they’ll detect said nerdiness and want to slowly back away… yet this guy has nowhere to go! So, I take a metaphorical and probably literal deep breath and keep chatting.
By the way, if you didn’t piece this together, I should add that I’d just gotten off a red-eye-esque flight and every ounce of that situation is all over my face and hair and outfit…like most of us, I rarely feel like the cutest version of myself when I first get out of bed, and couple that with the fact that ‘bed’ last night was the floor of LAX, a bench at LAX, and an airplane seat…I’m not exactly feeling like Beyonce. I did wake up like this, but “this” entails tired red eyes, sleepy pale skin, lack of all makeup, hair pinned back who knows how…I mean, I did wear my “cute” sweatshirt” and yoga pants, but…if you have to describe your sweatshirt as cute, that’s still probably pretty telling.
But Rugged Airport Yoga Instructor Guy and I chat about the adventures, challenges and excitement of solo travels (like this one, for me, and his backpacking trip to Southeast Asia…of course, right? Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.) And we chat about jobs, and the need to make changes in life now and then, and he encourages me that this is actually a great time to do what I’m doing. I’m grateful for anyone’s encouragement along those lines, so even a perfect stranger’s feedback feels great.
We arrive at Penn Station, he hands me my suitcase and comments on how light I’ve packed for such a long stay, how I managed to be pretty low maintenance for such a long trip. I make a conscious decision to take it as a compliment, trying to assume he didn’t actually mean, “Please tell me this suitcase actually contains some cuter clothes than this ‘cute’ sweatshirt and yoga pants. Jeez, did you ever stop to think you might want to put more effort into your overnight-flight-appearance, knowing you’d meet someone as hot as me?” Like I said, making a conscious effort to NOT assume that’s the subtext here. 🙂
So we walk into Penn, and he tells me which way I need to head without me having to ask. I thank him, and ask his name. Brendan. Great, I’m Megan, And of course his name is Brendan, right? It couldn’t be Martin or Gerald or Bob or something a little more neutral like that, but Brendan??
Great to meet you, he says. Enjoy your adventure.
And even though I know I’ll never see him again, I amble away to my train, smiling to myself. Thanks, Rugged Airport Guy, Brendan. I think i’ll do just that.
They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but I didn’t have a picture of Brendan, the Rugged Airport Guy. I would have taken a stalker shot if I didn’t think that by some awful twist of fate I would have been caught in the act, and any success I’d had at not being awkward would have been irreversibly thwarted. Instead, I just stumbled upon this picture of him. By searching for him on the internet using all identifiable pieces of information he had dropped in conversation. Sorry if that sounds creepy, it’s just called having a good memory and knowing how to do a basic Google search.