This fall I participated in this awesome journalism program. (If you live in the DFW area, it’s called Storytellers Without Borders.) There were eight of us high schoolers in the program, and we were paired with actual journalists as mentors. Over the course of nine or so weekly sessions, they helped us through the process of writing our own journalism articles.
This is the article I wrote.
The Chatty Car: The Quiet Car’s Better Twin
We have been provided with overwhelming amounts of information about loneliness and its current prevalence.
In 2018, the Cigna U.S. Loneliness Index discovered that 46% of Americans sometimes or always feel alone and 43% feel isolated from others. That’s about every other person you see.
The study also found that people who have frequent, meaningful, and in-person interactions are less likely to be lonely than those who do not. “This trend illustrates that loneliness will typically decrease as in-person interaction increases,” the study reported.
However, while the researchers put together the data, they graciously left the much harder task to us—actually doing something because of the statistics. Now that we have this information, how are we realistically supposed to increase our amount of frequent, meaningful, and in-person interactions?
On the podcast The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos, Nicholas Epley, a behavioral science professor at the University of Chicago, described his concept of a ‘Chatty’ Car.
Unlike Quiet Cars, these would be designated cars for people interested in talking and getting to know their neighbors.
Then train and subway riders could have more interactions just by changing up their commute routine. The idea sounded simple on paper, but on a Sunday afternoon in November, I went to the Trinity Mills DART station to see how these conversations would possibly go in real life.
I approached Walter as he was finishing up at the ticket machine. Slightly on the shorter side, he had bright brown eyes and well-groomed facial hair. I could smell his cologne. He was wearing his uniform, simple black clothes with yellow detailing, for his valet job at the Cambria Hotel. On his back was strapped a red backpack that looked straight out of REI.
Walter was happy to talk. A minute and two questions in, he had already revealed that at one point, he’d had four cars. Then he sold one, wrecked another, and left a third at his ex’s. Regarding that one, he said, “I do plan on getting it back.” As for the final car, a 1982 Mazda RX-7 he’d had since age 16, it was in the shop. Riding the train was his solution for now.
Shortly after explaining his predicament, Walter stated the obvious. “I’m a very big people person. I like talking to people,” he said. “You get to learn a lot just from talking to someone. I’ve spoken to many elderly people, young people, middle-aged people, and they all have different insights as far as life, things to do, experiences. It’s very interesting.”
Starting these conversations seemed to come as naturally to Walter as breathing. “They ask you a question, or you ask them a question regarding something that just happened. It could be like ‘My shoe’s untied’. It could be as small as that. And you lead on to an almost 30 minute conversation. It’s crazy.”
Walter described a specific exchange he had with a man named Ed during State Fair season. “He was like, ‘I’ve never been on a train before,’ and he was probably in his sixties. Cool guy. He was just giving me insights on what I was doing now and what I could do to get there faster.”
Turning his head, he caught a glance at the train that had pulled in. “Well, I’ll see you later. Thanks,” he said, jogging away. He pressed a small orange button that manually opened the shut doors and slipped inside.
That same afternoon, I talked to Annette and Erica. Annette was wearing big sunglasses, and Erica had on perfectly applied eyeliner. They were sitting on a bench, waiting to catch a train going to downtown Dallas. Once there, they didn’t have anything particular planned except just walking around and possibly taking some cute pictures.
They were both 18-years old and had gone to the same school from kindergarten until high school. When asked to describe their first memories of each other, Annette said, “I think it was third grade. I remember I was chosen to be a hero for our class, so you have to write your whole life story or whatever. And I was like, dang, should I put her as my friend?” (She did.)
As I talked to Annette and Erica about everything from Instagram vs. Snapchat to the current political climate, the thoughts and perspectives they voiced felt familiar.
Their opinion on climate change bore strong resemblance to Greta Thunberg’s rhetoric. “It’s real. We’re all going to die soon if nobody does anything.” On gun violence, they expressed a growing anxiety about security that Parkland students had brought to the national forefront last March. “You never know when there’s going to be a shooting. It’s literally just waiting to happen.”
It was like meeting a vocal facet of Gen-Z’s internet and cultural presence in real life.
In the span of about an hour, I had two meaningful, in-person interactions. One with Walter, a guy with the seemingly superhuman ability to regularly have conversations (and sometimes profound ones) with strangers, and one with Annette and Erica, two friends who put faces to faceless online opinions.
While some might say these conversations were only possible because I had a mic and a journalism assignment to complete, interactions like these could potentially be accessible to anyone with a train or subway ticket.
Quiet Cars have existed for years, but it’s time for its superior, loneliness-battling twin to come onto the scene as well.
It’s time for the Chatty Car.
Have you ever interviewed someone before?
Have you see Frozen 2 yet? Ugh, I still need to. I think I might this Sunday. Fingers crossed.
Do you have finals coming up?