Social Without Networking

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. What I love about it can just as easily become the thing that exasperates me—it all depends on the nature of the posts that come through my newsfeed. The last few days one of my friends has been posting about his trip to London. Nothing braggadocious like I might be tempted to post if I was traveling abroad. Just a check-in at the airport and a couple quick videos of his various daily commutes, including one of those infamous red double-decker buses as it passed by him. I couldn’t resist asking him if he was camping out at the hospital in wait for the royal baby—I’d seen another post that said this is what the locals were doing. Today I was surprised to see he was already back stateside, but the post announcing his wait at Heathrow made me smile and ponder at the wonder of what I had just read. He gave me permission to share his experience.

So…I get to the London airport early to make my flight and see if I can improve my seating location for maximum comfort. It didn’t work; but it was worth a shot. I’m sitting, on the phone waiting on my flight to board and I see the airport services people lead an obviously blind man to the seat next to me. A few minutes past, I get off the phone and the new guy immediately says hello. He ask’s what time is boarding. I tell him and he continues to make small talk. I suspect he is nervous about flying and wants to talk. I run into these folks frequently. He makes a corny little blind joke about knowing more about people as a blind man than the seeing. I ask, “what does he know about me.” Without hesitation or stutter he says you’re an american, born in the south. I said that’s easy, my accent is a dead give away. “I’m not finished,” he interrupts. You’re black, 40 to 50 years old with a graduate degree level of education. You travel international frequently for work and you’re a sales type person.” Now, I’m impressed. He’s dead on accurate! How did you know all this? He says, “I heard your conversation on the phone when I walked up. That gave me most of the information. And, you’ve been asking me questions since we began talking; that’s what sales people do.” We laugh. I’m astonished as though this was a circus trick. How did you know I was black? “I’m familiar with black speech patterns and dialect. I know what black folks sound like,” he says. “I’ve worked with black folks all my life.” I see, I reply. What do you do?, I ask. “I’m a political consultant. “You know Maynard Jackson, correct?” Yes, I do. “Well, I worked on his campaign to be the first black mayor of Atlanta.” At this point I shift in my seat to look directly at this man. For the next 40 minutes I hear the most phenomenal stories about the civil rights movement from a blind white man. He was a campaign strategist to elect black officials to political office; mainly mayors. Maynard Jackson, Harold Washington, Coleman Young, Richard Arrington, Harvey Gantt. My mouth is slightly agape. He had an interesting little antidote about each person and each election. “Now boarding!, the lady says and the airport services guy comes for my “friend.” It was great talking to you I said. He smiled and reached out his hand and said Alabama, right? I shook his hand and said “you’re right. I was born and raised.” He said the accent is almost gone but I still hear it. We both belly laugh and walked off.
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I immediately commented on my friend’s post, “I hope you got his business card!” He didn’t. In fact, after further conversation my friend told me he didn’t even get the man’s name, something he so regretted. He said it all happened so quickly. When I chided him asking, “What sales guy doesn’t ask for a business card of someone like that?”, my friend said he was stunned by it all. I have to admit when I pondered this further, I kind of like the fact my friend was so enthralled in the conversation that trying to network with this man didn’t even dawn on him. He thought of so many more things he would like to have asked him, but unfortunately they were headed in different directions.

I wasn’t the only one to marvel at what’s almost becoming a lost art—socializing face-to-face. “Wow! He just put on a clinic about what a person can learn from others if they took the time to closely listen.” exclaimed another friend. “Very interesting……..It’s amazing what you can hear with your eyes closed.” was another wise observation. And probably most profound, “Interesting, he knew stuff about you that some of your friends are still trying to figure out.” Just goes to show real conversation is something we should not be so quick to replace with social networking. As my friend said, “It was a great encounter though. And if his story is completely true, it’s remarkable.” Next time you’re tempted to bury your nose in your phone so the stranger sitting next to you doesn’t bother you with idle chatter, you might want to reconsider. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the man knew my friend took their picture.