Yesterday I was waiting for the streetcar when a young woman came up to me. She started talking and I pulled off my headphones, hoping the conversation would be short. She asked me how to ride the DC Connector and I told her I didn’t know what that was but the streetcar stop was just in front of us, pointing to the median where a group of people were waiting. She had her card out, so I told her it was free to ride.
That’s when things took a turn. She told me how she was glad it was free because everything was too expensive. I politely agreed cause, yes, the rent is too damn high. But then she started chatting and asking me questions. I thought I’d be nice, since she seemed harmless enough. She asked me what I did. She asked me where I was from. I didn’t tell her much, but she told me all about herself. She mentioned that she had some hard transitions. She said she didn’t know whether it was the right time for her to have a kid. She ran through a list of life’s difficult choices, looking at me as she mentioned each one. She was casting lines, but I’d stopped biting.
After awhile, she said she’d like to give me her card. I watched as she searched in her giant blue-and-white striped Jessica Simpson wheeled bag, finally finding something. She handed it to me. It was a card for her church.
Then it all started to come together. I’d thought she was just a young women who hadn’t developed appropriate social skills. Turns out, she was a young woman who had learned a specific set social skills, ones that would help her manipulate strangers. And something about me made her think I was the perfect target. Is it because I look malleable? Does my general demeanor exude skepticism and profanity?
She told me how when she was struggling her Bible study really helped her. She told me everyone is welcome. She said it changed her life. I said that’s nice that that worked for her. She said I should join her. Then I made a crucial mistake. Instead of just saying no or that I am an unbelieving heathen or please leave me alone lady with no personal boundaries, I said I was Jewish. I think I was searching for a button to press just to see what would happen. She lit right up. She said that was fantastic because we are the chosen people and the savior was Jewish and we were given the holy text. I stared at her silently, thinking that if she really thought I was chosen, why in the world would I need her. She said, well at least we could go for a drink. She was clearly grasping. I continued to stare.
Finally, she told me we’d come to her stop and got off the streetcar. I took a deep breath, scooted over into the seat she’d just left, and put my headphones back in my ears.
And this is why I don’t talk to strangers. One minute, you think you’re giving someone directions on the street, the next you’re being accosted by an evangelist disguised as a confused 26-year-old tourist. I’ll never tell someone how to get to Hard Rock Cafe again.